From the current issue of _American Educator_, fascinating research on Equality issues by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (PDF alert!) that shows that greater economic and social equality don’t make things better just for the bottom:
It may seem obvious that problems associated with relative deprivation should be more common in more unequal societies. However, if you ask people why greater equality reduces these problems, the most common assumption is that greater equality helps those at the bottom. the truth is that the vast majority of the population is harmed by greater inequality.
Across whole populations, rates of mental illness are three times as high in the most unequal societies compared with the least unequal societies. Similarly, in most unequal societies people are almost ten times as likely to be imprisoned and two or three times as likely to be clinically obese, and murder rates may be many times higher. The reason why these differences are so big is, quite simply, because the effects of inequality are not confined just to the least well-off: instead, they affect the vast majority of the population. For example as epidemiologist Michael Marmot frequently points out, if you took away all the health problems of the poor, most of the problem of health inequalities would still be untouched.
I think this is an important message – if somewhat counter-intuitive to many, who believe that equity benefits only those beneath them.