Daniel Dorling is one of the researchers who has shown that the idea that we are ‘sleepwalking into segregation’ because ethnic minorities are becoming more concentrated in British cities like Bradford is wrong – in fact, the reverse is happening. Where we are becoming more segregated is between rich and poor. Affluent people are voting with their feet and moving further and further away from city centres, including of course in some cases into gated communities.
In his new book Dorling takes on the task of looking not only at the whole range of ways in which the gap between the rich and the poor is growing but why this is the case. To anyone who has looked at the recent book The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better, Dorling provides some stimulating arguments on why so much inequality has come about and what we ought to do about it.
First of all he challenges the idea that inequality is somehow natural. He points out that all the evidence indicates that so-called primitive man lived in much more equal societies, and it is only in last few thousand years that we have created the inequality that is now almost worldwide. When we see the graphs called ‘bell curves’ showing characteristics like children’s intelligence we assume that it’s ‘natural’ that some should be more intelligent than others. Dorling argues that it isn’t and that we have either created inequalities or made them much worse than they need to be.
Nowhere has inequality manifested itself more than in housing, of course. The mantra ‘location, location, location’ might ostensibly be about buying a house near a good school or a park but in practice is about putting as much distance as you can afford between you and the poor. We use houses to flaunt our wealth, buying more than one when we know there is a shortage, or buying a bigger one than we need (then criticising ‘underoccupation’ in council housing). Dorling mentions the extreme case of a house worth $135m, owned by a Saudi prince: it is so big it could accommodate 100 council flats. Others have less grandiose properties but need more of them: rich people in the USA now commonly own four or more homes, flying between them.
The US and Britain have also become massively indebted nations. And Dorling is not talking about government debt, he is talking about mortgages and credit cards. Among the other astonishing facts in the book is that half the credit card debt in Europe is now owed by people in Britain.
Dorling keeps on posing the question of why we know much of this but are not shocked by it. Indeed, celebrity culture tends to celebrate excess and only in extremes (eg drug taking) criticises it. His conclusion is that we have conned ourselves into believing that excess is natural and injustice unavoidable. As in other areas of life, we are perfectly able to hold two contradictory ideas in our heads at the same time: we put up with, perhaps even add to, inequality because it seems to be inevitable, while contributing to charities or fund-raising efforts designed to reduce it.
He says that the problem is therefore not someone else’s responsibility, it’s in our own heads. While we continue to accept this state of affairs, it will persist. Part of the solution is understanding where we have reached and why we have got there. If you want to do this, or think you do already but want to convince others, Dorling’s book is an excellent place to look for both the facts and the arguments.
Original post: Housing Magazine