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I don’t know anyone in SA who is particularly happy at the moment, despite living in The Most Beautiful Country in the World (fact).
I doubt I need to list the reasons for this national depression, ranging from rising prices to pandemics, flooding, load shedding, knowing that winter is coming…
But there’s something unspoken too. I read it in a headline last week: “Happiness study finds wealth is no match for inequality.”
For the research, international data about life satisfaction was contrasted with the Gini coefficient, an inequality measure. Comparing 78 countries over four decades, the study showed that countries where economic inequality increased as wealth grew displayed decreasing levels of happiness across the population.
“When inequality increases, people with high incomes don’t benefit much… but people who earn little really suffer from falling further behind,” said study author Dr David Bartram.
Previous research has shown that it is inequality – not poverty – which is also a major driver of crime, while inequality erodes social cohesion as well.
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So this then is the diamond-studded elephant in the corner: in terms of wealth distribution, SA is officially the most unequal country in the world.
By extension, SA is probably the unhappiest country in the world too. And the most crime-ridden. A map of the Gini index shows South Africa alone as blisteringly red, even compared to famously unequal regions of Latin America.
Our rich are hideously, staggeringly rich, and getting richer; the middle classes are struggling more and more to make ends meet; the poorest are desperately, despicably mired in poverty.
Yes, it’s true that money can’t buy happiness, but a bit of spare cash beyond that needed for basic food can certainly facilitate it. Holidays, new shoes, nice wine… Typically, the advantages and disadvantages of income are passed from parent to child, defining everything from education and health, right through to social connections and status.
However, above a certain income threshold the joys of wealth wane, with the very rich in their Ferraris eyeballing the mega-rich in their yachts with envy. And now we know that it’s not money that is the root of all evil; it’s inequality.
Maybe we should put Prozac in the water. Or maybe we should sort the problem out.