New Zealand is different

08/03/2012 § 2 Comments

I started reading The Spirit Level yesterday. It’s gotten some exposure, so you probably already know the central theme: societies that are more equal are better for everyone.

I don’t want to comment on the main ideas until I’ve read more. Something Zizek noted (but I can’t re-find) is relevant, though. Critiquing Rawl’s egalitarian, veil-of-ignorance theory, he asked us to imagine the horror and resentment if our social status were entirely our own fault.

Reading the first few chapters, I was struck by how New Zealand is often at the edge of the data cloud or far from the regression line. Several key slides are available on The Equality Trust website (associated with the book). Here are a couple:

This graph shows the relationship between the level of national income per capita and average life expectancy. New Zealand, a rich country by world standards, is up in the top bit with the other rich countries. Compared with them, however, it does really well in life expectancy. We get more years for our earnings than many other countries.

This graph shows levels of trust in a country compared to the level of income inequality. New Zealand is far above the regression line, and has relatively high trust despite greater-than-average inequality.

It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. For example, the measure for child well-being is abysmal, even after accounting for income inequality.
The main point, though, is simply this: something about New Zealand makes it different. Comparing it to Australia (location), Ireland (size), or Norway (fjords) without also saying, ‘but, the comparison is inexact’ does everyone a disservice.
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§ 2 Responses to New Zealand is different

  • Please please please read Chris Snowdon’s “The Spirit Level Delusion” in conjunction with this one. Data cherry picking drives most of the conclusions.

    • Bill says:

      We were talking about this yesterday in the tearoom. I’ll definitely have to read both the book and its critiques.

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