In 2009 the groundbreaking and controversial The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Do Better was published. It argued that almost every aspect of society was improved by greater equality, and made worse by greater inequality. I interviewed producer and director Katherine Round, who plans to make a movie based on the book.
Z: What made you want to turn The Spirit Level into a film?
Katherine: When I read the book I was struck by the power of the evidence within it that inequality underlines many of the social problems we are most concerned about, and felt that if this message could be taken out to a wider audience it would really have the potential to make a significant contribution to public policy and from there hopefully we’ll start seeing improvements in areas as diverse as child poverty to mental health. I have long believed that film has a very powerful role to play both in raising awareness of issues and offering solutions – presenting factual information in a way that is accessible to new audiences. There are lots of people out there who would never pick up a book about the need for greater equality, and it is these people that a film can engage. The film The End of the Line, which examined the impact of over-fishing on the world’s oceans, was subject to an impact study on its effectiveness. The film was found to have been effective not just at spreading the message, but also changing policy (both government and retail). I hope The Spirit Level film can be as successful.
Z: What are the effects of inequality on society and the economy?
Katherine: The analysis conducted by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett shows that a range of social ills are more common in societies that have a bigger gap between rich and poor. For example; social mobility is less likely, there is more violent crime, more mental health problems, and poorer educational performance. And, contrary to what many believe, these problems impact on people even if they’re at the higher end of the income scale. We’ve been fed the view for years that inequality is necessary for economic success, but the reality is that it is a destabilising factor. Vastly unequal societies prohibit large sections of the population from participating in the economy without taking on debt. What we have seen is the creation of debt-based economies which are unsustainable, with wealth flowing upwards and the rest maintaining their position through borrowing. This inevitably collapses, causing recession.
Z: Some people have disputed the findings of The Spirit Level, and argue that inequality is not necessarily bad. What is your response to that?
Katherine: The critiques to the book have mainly come from a small number of politically-motivated sources, who by cherry-picking data and the inconsistent removal of different countries, have found they can show something different. This is the reason that the authors of the book used statistically sound epidemiological methods and data sources – to ensure that there was no bias and that their analysis was rigorous. They even added an additional chapter to the book answering their critics point-by-point.
Z: What do you hope the film will achieve?
Katherine: I hope the film will enable more people to be aware of how damaging the current levels of inequality are to our societies. By giving people ways they can influence change – as consumers, citizens and campaigners – I hope that we will be able to make an intervention in the debate, build the social movement for a fairer society, and ultimately make changes that improve people’s lives.
Katherine is attempting to crowfund the making of this movie. To make a donation, go here. (Note: donations end on Sunday night)