Absolute and relative income, or inequality?

October 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Saying that average life expectancy isn’t related to average income is a strong statement, but it isn’t the same thing as saying that personal life expectancy isn’t related to personal income. Going to the individual level:

  1. Personal life expectancy in rich countries might be related to absolute income, but not relative income.
  2. Personal life expectancy in rich countries might be related to relative income, but not absolute income.
  3. Personal life expectancy in rich countries might be related to absolute and relative income.
If average life expectancy isn’t related to average income, then you really have to fudge numbers to get 1.  to be true. Stated as bluntly as it is, it’s a bit hard to believe 2. 3. is the easiest to believe.
If we’re going to talk about inequality, though, we need to clarify whether we’re talking about inequality as part of the above, or an national inequality effect on top of the above.

Aside: “We are the first generation to have to find new answers to the question of how we can make further improvements to the real quality of human life. What should we turn to if not to economic growth?” (Spirit Level, p. 10) I would have thought such new answers were at least as necessary as now for all of human existence prior to about 1750. Put another way, the constraints to growth provided by the environment now seem less stringent than those provided by feudalism. (Yes, yes, climate change; that’s another Big Project I’ll get to some other year.)

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