On Wednesday 9th of May Equality West Midlands welcomed Professor of Human Geography Danny Dorling of Sheffield University to speak to us. He has written several books on the issue of income inequality and is widely respected within the field. Dorling’s work complements the Spirit Level well.
We held the event at the BMI in Birmingham City Centre and we were very excited by the turnout. Nearly 50 people attended, almost a full house, with a lot of the people not having been a part of EWM previous to the event. Moving on to Danny Dorling, he used various graphs, maps and diagrams based on academic research to demonstrate his rather startling arguments. On top of this Dorling happily took questions from the floor. In his presentation Dorling noted how in the 1920’s the level of income inequality reached similar proportions to what we see in rich modern unequal societies. The Wall Street crash followed, which was no coincidence. After the Wall Street Crash societies became more equal and after World War II better levels of economic equality helped create fairer societies where society as a whole benefitted from developments like in the UK the NHS. Dorling used graphs to show how different countries have moved in different directions concerning equality from the late 1970’s onwards. Countries like Switzerland and Sweden decided to maintain their levels of income inequality, whilst on the other hand countries like the UK and America drastically changed their economic policies meaning that the latter countries became economically vastly unequal.
The consequences of these policies in countries like the UK and America are stark. Wealth has become concentrated in a small number of people at the top of society. Recently in America 1% of the population owned 20% of the wealth. The UK has similar figures regarding income inequality. In states like the UK those at the top hoard the wealth and in many cases try to avoid paying their debt to society through things like tax. Less wealth is left to be shared between the remainder of the citizens. Extremely unequal societies develop more societal problems than more equal societies. Social problems like obesity, teenage pregnancy etc tends to happen more in highly unequal societies than in more equal societies. Dorling pointed out that at a time when average wages and incomes are falling, leading to a whole heap of societal problems being made worse, the top 1% became considerably richer. How is this fair? More equal societies like the Netherlands and Denmark suffer similar problems but are able to absorb them much better than we do in the UK.
During the question and answer session we discussed a variety of issues. One of these issues was what direction the UK was heading towards as the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer. One of the theories put forward by the audience was that events like the riots we witnessed last year in Birmingham would become more common. How can we move to a more equal society in the UK was another question asked? Dorling warned that if we had another financial crisis like the one in 2008 we would get greater equality, but at a monumentally high price. Dorling told us that we need to try and sway the public mood and put pressure on those at the top to tell them that their actions are unacceptable. The example of Aviva offers us a tiny beacon of hope.
Our first speaker event was a great success. Danny Dorling was an entertaining speaker who was not afraid to tackle difficult questions from the audience. I for one enjoyed the pretty graphs and diagrams and I think the rest of the audience did too. Hopefully this will be the first of many speaker events with influential people in the field of income inequality.
– This article was written by Shaz Rahman. You can follow Shaz @ https://twitter.com/#!/ShazRahman30 –