How often statistics that grab the headlines divert attention from what’s really going on. From the furore over BBC payscales, you’d think incomes in the UK are getting more unequal, and the pay gap between men and women larger. Not so. Income inequality is lower than it was before the financial crisis; and though women still earn less, their “earnings are higher relative to those of men than they have ever been”.
It’s not rising inequality but “the massive squeeze on incomes right across the population” that presents the biggest challenge of the past decade. Average real incomes are below their 2008 level, a fall “unique in at least 150 years”. But that’s not because more are out of work: most of those classed as poor live in families where someone has a job. As for middle-income families with children, a striking trend is that half now rent their property: in the 1990s, more than two-thirds were owner-occupiers. Many also get in-work benefits, so they increasingly feel they’ve more in common with the poor than the rich. These are the key trends shaping our society, not some “non-existent spiraling in income inequality”. (Paul Johnson, The Times)
What is the relevance of these trends to Epicureanism? I suggest it is the general level of happiness or unhappiness:
Happy people are kinder and more helpful to others – i.e. increased altruism.
Happy people are more successful and show more effective leadership.
Happy people have better physical health, adding up to nine years to life expectancy.They also have better mental health, i.e. less depression, and a more healthy self esteem.
Happy people can think more effectively and expansively.
Happy people are more likely to change the world in a positive way than unhappy people.
If your income is static and prices and inflation are rising happiness deteriorates, however many friends you have. The “economy” is supposed to be about flesh and blood people, not statistics. How have we ended up with the majority of the population increasingly feeling that they are sinking? It is bad for society and certainly bad for those yearning for peace of mind and more pleasure in their lives.