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August 19, 2006


Polly isn’t going to like this.

There's no evidence that being rich reduces average mortality, or that being poor increases it:

Bang goes one of the major arguments for her redistributionist project.

Inequality does NOT kill.

August 19, 2006 | Permalink


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There are countless studies supporting this thesis.

Posted by: james higham | Aug 19, 2006 1:54:30 PM

Would even Polly claim that inequality as such kills? That if my life doesn't change at all, but yours improves, I'll die younger?

Come to think of it, she just might...

Tim adds: Actually, yes, she does claim exactly that.

Posted by: P. Froward | Aug 19, 2006 2:39:21 PM

If Madame Dim really believed that inequality kills, she'd donate most of her income to the poor, wouldn't she?

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 19, 2006 3:10:05 PM

Inequality may not kill directly, but how about calculating deaths from envy or indeed just aggravated burglary?
It all looks a liitle bit simple to me or am I being naive?

Posted by: Rosalind | Aug 19, 2006 8:34:07 PM


You have quoted Mark Thoma's summary of the paper ("There's no evidence that being rich reduces average mortality, or that being poor increases it"), but as far as I can see this is not what the paper actually says.

As I read it, the paper finds is that there is no statistical relationship between mortality and inequality. In other words, while poor people have higher mortality than the rich - as you would expect, they do not have higher mortality in more unequal societies than they would at the same income level in a more equal society.

So I think that what Mark Thoma says, which you quote, is not correct. The evidence is that being rich does reduce mortality. What the paper shows is that being relatively rich does not reduce mortality.

I am not aware that Polly Toynbee has ever claimed that there is a relationship between mortality and inequality (as opposed to a link between mortality and poverty) but then I don't read her as conscientiously as you do.


Tim adds: I’m pretty sure that’s what I say above. It is not inequlaity itself that kills. And yes, Polly has, repeatedly, said that it is the inequality itself that kills.

Posted by: Owen Barder | Aug 20, 2006 4:56:47 AM

I'm pretty sure it isn't.

Tim adds:


Yesterday's UN Human Development Report confirms a growing volume of international research showing that extreme inequality within nations does great damage whatever a country's overall wealth. Poorer countries sharing more fairly get better health, crime, education and social results than richer but more unequal countries. Since people are finely attuned to social status, the fate of those at the bottom of a pecking order within a rich society is far worse than those in a poor country who feel they belong among the generality. The UN figures show that exclusion kills, in both infant deaths and shorter lives.

Posted by: Owen Barder | Aug 20, 2006 6:39:51 PM

Tim, the research Mark Thoma links to doesn't really answer the question, because the measure of inequality they use is the share of income going to the top 10% of earners. So it shows that lots of relative *high* income doesn't affect mortality, but doesn't tell us anything about the effect of lots of relative *low* income. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the two are quite different things. And the latter effect would be consistent with the findings of the Human Development Report Polly's talking about in your quote above.

Posted by: Jim | Aug 21, 2006 8:37:48 AM