Injustice: Why social inequality persists, by Daniel Dorling

Policy Press, 2011, xvii + 403 pp, pbk 1 847 42720 5, £9.99

Daniel Dorling’s Injustice (reviewed in the Citizen’s Income Newsletter, edition 3 for 2010) has been reissued in paperback with a new foreword by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett and a new afterword by the author.

In the book, Dorling gathers evidence for ‘continued belief in the tenets of injustice’ (p.13): ‘Elitism is efficient’, ‘exclusion is necessary’, ‘prejudice is natural’, ‘greed is good’, and ‘despair is inevitable’ – tenets imbibed by the wealthy as they grow up, and which perpetuate them in power and perpetuate their power; and tenets in which many others acquiesce. Dorling persuasively argues that the result is growing inequality, and it is surely shocking that ‘in countries such as Britain people last lived lives as unequal as today, as measured by wage inequality, in 1854, when Charles Dickens was writing Hard Times’ (p.316).

Presumably Wilkinson and Pickett were asked to write the new Foreword because of the success of their book The Spirit Level, which found that inequality (sometimes understood as income inequality, and sometimes more generally understood) was correlated to a variety of social ills. In their significant Foreword to Injustice they do as we suggested in a review in a previous edition of the Citizen’s Income Newsletter (issue 1 for 2010), and have located the causes of inequality and of various other social ills in deeper social structures – social structures which they interestingly suggest have prehistoric and indeed pre-human origins.

Dorling’s new Afterword is equally significant. The Coalition Cabinet contains more millionaires than any other in the last hundred years, and Dorling shows that in the interests of the élite which they represent, Cabinet members are consistent exponents of the ‘tenets of injustice’. He suggests that they have established a new higher education funding regime likely to restrict higher education to a social elite because they believe that elitism is efficient. Perhaps he’s right.

The Afterword locates the cure for all of this injustice in changed beliefs, as does the original book, but there is little to suggest how this might be achieved apart from the idea that we should fortify ourselves for the journey by reminding ourselves that things have sometimes changed for the better. This lack of a prescription raises an important question: Do we change behaviour by changing beliefs, or is it the other way round? The process is probably circular, which means that behavioural and structural change will be important methods of changing people’s beliefs, and vice versa. To take an example: Enforced good behaviour in the workplace in relation to racial equality has promoted belief in racial equality, and increasing belief in racial equality has promoted better workplace practice. If the process is circular in this way then we shall need to construct ‘equality mechanisms’ if we are to see people’s beliefs change.

Needless to say, Child Benefit, a Citizen’s Pension, and then a Citizen’s Income, will be such mechanisms. This leads us to suggest that, at last year’s Conservative Party Conference, George Osborne announced that Child Benefit would be deuniversalised because, in its present universal form, Child Benefit represents everything which the ‘tenets of injustice’ are against.