The Spirit Level: The Inequality and the Consequences in Sociocultural Diseases. The End of Society

Review Article

Austin J Bus Adm Manage. 2019; 3(2): 1039.

The Spirit Level: The Inequality and the Consequences in Sociocultural Diseases. The End of Society

Pezzani F*

University of Parma, Italy

*Corresponding author: Fabrizio Pezzani, SDA Distinguished professor, Degree in Economics, University of Parma, Italy

Received: November 21, 2019; Accepted: December 19, 2019; Published: December 26, 2019


We are facing an anthropological crisis, not economic. The debate on economics and its methods of study cannot be divorced from a correct reading of history that in the long term tends to repeat itself, as G.B. Vico had envisioned; the nature of man never changes, constantly oscillating between Cain and Abel, and it would seem that only pain leads man to wisdom. The single technicalrational thought makes us see the future as the only guarantee of success and we therefore cannot understand the correlations between causes and effects in our history. We act as if the past had been erased and as if history had never manifested similar situations to those in which we find ourselves today.

The toxic consequences of this model are socio-cultural inequality, poverty, moral degradation, a raging and permanent conflict, lack of imagination and creativity. Is all this due to an incorrect adjustment of the markets (economic crisis) or to the end of a socio-cultural model incapable of responding to the problems of man as a person not as an object (anthropological crisis)? “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty” (Caritas in veritate, chapter II, 21). The system taken to extremes created a concentration of financial wealth that is unparalleled in history with a sort of hegemonic senate that is superordinate to individual states. We have to return to the man and to a Welfare system in which healthcare is fundamental because in this way we can understand the solidarity and we can build a real “societas” – this world in old Latin means “alliance” – and this is a foundation of our happiness.

Inequality: The End of a Society

Social hardships grow and this can be seen by the increase in social problems and tensions highlighted by the indicators. An excellent book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger highlights how increases in inequality tend to cause social problems to grow and later explode. The indicators serve to better understand empirically theories propounded in this book and in La Competizione Collaborativa. (Fabrizio Pezzani, 2011, Egea, Milan) The first point made in Wilkinson and Pickett’s book is that:

‘Not only have measures of wellbeing and happiness ceased to rise with economic growth but, as affluent societies have grown richer, there have been long-term rises in rates of anxiety, depression and numerous other social problems […] As living standards rise and countries get richer and richer, the relationship between economic growth and life expectancy weakens. […] Eventually in the long history of economic growth, countries inevitably reach a level of affluence where “diminishing returns” set in and additional income buys less and less additional health, happiness and wellbeing. […] It is the diseases of poverty, which first decline as countries start to get richer. The great infectious diseases […] – disappear, we are left with the so-called diseases of affluence ‒ the degenerative cardiovascular diseases and cancers. While the infectious diseases of poverty are particularly common in childhood and frequently kill even in the prime of life, the diseases of affluence are very largely diseases of later life’. (The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger).

The imbalance between economic value and social value, normally referred to as “beyond GDP”, has been a line of research for some time now. French president, Sarkozy set up a committee comprising, among others, Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi to investigate this issue. Research that Robert Kennedy had been the first to call for in his 1968 election campaign, given that he realized the economic indicator was inadequate to represent the wellbeing of society and, in a more general sense, happiness. But measurement of wellbeing in a broader sense than merely considering economic aspects is no easy matter, because first the concepts of both wellbeing itself and happiness need to be defined. To do so means that the sphere of feelings, affection and love must be taken into account, aspects that are very difficult to define and measure. For instance, can a mother’s love for her child be measured?

Certainly a life that is too dependent on material aspects will sooner or later inevitably provoke a reappraisal of the need for spirituality. Today this need is growing as a response to people’s desire to overcome a sterile lifestyle based on individualism and greed, one that suffocates and annihilates the sense of social life. We will always have to start again from social capital and this can be done once the need has become widespread and interiorized. The inequality increases the sense of exclusion and isolation – remember that Cain was condemned to wander forever alone. It also diminishes the feeling of mutual trust, the foundation of a united society – social capital cannot be built up without a sense of trust. And without trust there cannot even be hope. Inequality in a cultural model as indicated above increases problems like anxiety, fear, sense of isolation, loss of self-esteem and mistrust. It leads to forms of depression, the breakup of families and abandoning school or alternatively to forms of aggression and angry protest that foment violence and criminality. It generates compensatory reactions such as drug abuse or forms of satisfaction that are expressions of a regression to uncontrolled primary needs such as bulimia and exaggerated sexuality.

Already in his works at the end of the 1930s Sorokin warned of an upward drive in stratification of American society and how this was near to the threshold beyond which an increase in social differences tend to produce an irreversible process of disintegration. In his book Social and Cultural Dynamics Sorokin focused attention on the correlation between these forms of social hardship and the level of inequality as regards income redistribution. The negative effects of inequality must also be attributed to each country’s history, its tradition for solidarity and scale of values, which become antidotes to these problems. Rural communities in Italy have always had a strong sense of solidarity and loathed behavior contrary to a widely held sense of moral values. And so even when faced with extremely harsh economic conditions the sense of solidarity and respect for moral norms condemned any behavior detrimental to this status quo. The existence of a strong, mutually agreed social capital acted as a considerable deterrent against social developments that failed to comply with this interior order.

Another element that has contributed to the breakup of American society, which is also becoming a problem in Italy, is linked to the decline of the family’s role in society. The drive towards an individualistic model in search of material happiness has led to a reduction in forms of bonds with others ‒ marriage is an immediate example ‒ but this eventually leads to an isolation that promotes confusion and a difficulty to identify with stable values. Such difficulties mainly affect the more vulnerable, weaker youngsters, who end up without any guidance and rapidly succumb to the negative lessons of street life: in 2011 one in five youngsters were victims of this.

The following charts highlight problems related to the inequality indicated above. Use of illegal drugs increases crime and infant mortality in the USA is much higher than in all European countries (Figures 1 & 2).