I just finished reading The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett ( 38.00 Cdn - published by the Penguin Group) and I think everyone should read it.
The authors are British experts in the social determinants of health. They state that health and social problems in a society are caused by income inequality within that society; and that that said inequality causes problems for the well off and middle classes as well as for the poor. They support their argument with a slew of statistics from the last thirty years compiled by reputable organizations such as the OECD. For example, on page 183 of their book, they discuss a comparison of death rates in England (an inequal country) and Sweden ( an equal country.) Their graphs demonstrate English death rates are higher across all social classes of working age men. "Sweden, as the more equal of the two countires, had lower death rates in all occupational classes; so much so that their highest death rate - in the lowest classes - are lower than the highest class in England and Wales." The authors demonstrate that other social problems such as teen pregnancy; obesity; violence; mental illness; et al increase as income inequality increases. So couldn't this dynamic work in reverse - health and social problems cause income inequality? Wouldn't a society full of louts and layabouts dispay more income inquality? No. If this were the case, why would folks with decent middle class incomes do more poorly in inequal societies than in equal societies? Why would upper middle class professionals in England fare more poorly than the lower class louts (if you can call them that) in Sweden - to the point of dieing young?
Best of all, the authours' thesis offers us (us pinko lefty flaming improve the world types) a way to effectively reduce social problems and improve the societies we live in.