Is social inequality merely something to be ashamed of, or does it bring ruin upon a society?
I just finished reading a book review of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009). This book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett was reviewed in the April 30, 2009 edition of Nature (available online only to subscribers). The reviewer was Michael Sargent, a developmental biologist.
The Wilkinson/Pickett book explores the social consequences of income inequality.
Using statistics from reputable independent sources, they compare indices of health and social development in 23 of the world’s richest nations and in the individual US states. Their striking conclusion is that the societies that do best for their citizens are those with the narrowest income differentials-such as Japan and the Nordic countries and the US state of New Hampshire. The most unequal-the United States as a whole, the United Kingdom and Portugal do worst. Many measures of the quality of life, including life expectancy, are correlated with the degree of economic equality in each country.
Here’s the elephant in the political room: there is nothing in the Republican platform to address this damage being inflicted upon society. Quite the opposite: the Republican platform has continually stoke a wild unregulated capitalistic engine that disproportionately rewards some at the expense of others. What kind of damage is caused by this widespread disparity? You name it:
Problems such as mental illness, obesity, cardiovascular disease, unwillingness to engage with education, misuse of illegal and prescription drugs, teenage pregnancy, lack of social mobility and neglect of child welfare increase with greater inequality. Violence, from murder to the bullying of children in school follows the same pattern. These trends are tied up with the issues of trust: the authors chart a profound decline in trust and United States from the 1960s to the present, which matches rising inequality during the long Republican ascendancy.
The authors go so far as to suggest a local hardwired biological mechanism: neuroendocrinological stress. The perception that others are reveling in the good life at one’s expense undermines self-esteem and releases the hormone cortisol which causes stress, accompanied by high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. The cortisol overwhelms hormones, such as oxytocin, that are critical for trust-building. The damaging effect of long-term cortisol has been well-studied and established in other animals. In some experiments, monkeys that were chronically shoved to the bottom of a wide social hierarchy “are more inclined to self medicate with cocaine, if given the opportunity.”
This article give me yet more evidence that we would be often better off to relinquish much of our judgmentalism and to reconceptualize morality as an aspect of ecology.
Judge James P. Gray is a trial Judge in Orange County, California, a former attorney in the Navy JAG corps, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles; he has also been a civil litigation attorney for a private law firm. In these two videos, he talks about marijuana and our “failed and hopeless drug policy” in America.
According to Gray, it’s easier for kids to get marijuana than alcohol because alcohol is regulated by the government and marijuana is regulated by drug dealers on the street.
These are excellent videos, caused by a thoughtful judge who is in a position to know.
If we started treating marijuana as we do alcohol, we would see five immediate benefits:
California would save $1 Billion in state expenses currently used to prosecute marijuana offenses.
California would generate $1.3B in take revenue per year in California (marijuana is currently the number one cash crop in California, with grapes being #2).
We’d make marijuana less available than it is now, and the quality of marijuana would be better regulated than it is now.
The entire medical marijuana controversy would go away–the Federal government is currently acting like a “bully” harassing sick people.
Why don’t we treat marijuana like alcohol, even though the majority of people are willing to do this? Why does the federal government care? Here’s Judge Gray’s belief: At least 75% of everyone in the U.S. who uses any illicit substance uses only marijuana. By legalizing and regulating marijuana, the federal government would no longer justify our “colossal prison-industrial complex.” Many government jobs depend on the “war on drugs.” Two Congressmen have admitted to Judge Gray that “the war on drugs is not winnable, but it’s imminently fund-able.” He concludes that the federal government is “addicted to the drug war funding.”
For more on the harmlessness of marijuana, see this earlier DI post.
These videos were produced by Lee Stranahan, a writer, photographer and independent filmmaker. He also blogs for The Huffington Post .
Maher and guests (Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens and Mos Def) had an honest conversation about marijuana, politics and prohibition. Compare this honesty to Obama’s recent concocted statement, which was carefully designed to keep him safe from Republican character attacks. This topic of the legalization of marijuana needs more honest discussion, or else we will continue tossing 800,000 victimless “criminals” into the justice system every year. I’m not promoting the use of marijuana or any other mind-altering drug; I would prefer that everyone stay sober and naturally high on life. The current system is insanity, however, and I don’t see any hope for the honest public conversations we need to have.
On a related note, Huffpo reports that the violent big-time sellers of illegal drugs are thrilled to hear that we are going to continue our violence-inducing and generally counter-productive “drug war”:
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, reported head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, ranked 701st on Forbes’ yearly report of the wealthiest men alive, and worth an estimated $1 billion, today officially thanked United States politicians for making sure that drugs remain illegal. According to one of his closest confidants, he said, “I couldn’t have gotten so stinking rich without George Bush, George Bush Jr., Ronald Reagan, even El Presidente Obama, none of them have the cajones to stand up to all the big money that wants to keep this stuff illegal. From the bottom of my heart, I want to say, Gracias amigos, I owe my whole empire to you.”