Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson's 2011 book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger was an instant classic for the way it described the impact of wealth inequality on the lives of both poor and rich people, driving them both to completely unsustainable working lives that destroyed their families and made them deeply unhappy.
Filmmaker Katharine Round has turned "The Spirit Level" into an amazing-sounding documentary called "The Divide," which manages the trick of turning a data-driven book full of charts and graphs into an interwoven collection of gripping stories.
Based on Amelia Gentleman's review in The Guardian, I'm putting this one at the top of my to-be-watched list.
The Divide weaves together footage of Margaret Thatcher beginning to dismantle the unions, and news clips from the 90s that show the emergence of billionaires, tracking a $10bn leap in Bill Gates's fortune in the space of just six months, bringing his personal net worth up to $26bn. It sails through the corporate history of Walmart, problems with the UK's care industry, the effects of violent crime, the three-strikes-and-you're-out policy of the judicial system, debt, alcohol addiction in Glasgow – there's so much here that it leaves your head spinning. You come out wanting to know more about the individuals whose lives are fleetingly opened up along this journey.
You come out wanting to know more about the individuals whose lives are fleetingly opened up along this journey
But the selected material is sharp. There is a telling bit of archive footage showing an exchange between Jeremy Paxman and a youthful-looking Tony Blair, who looks momentarily confused, then genuinely puzzled when asked: "Do you believe that an individual can earn too much money?"
"What, you mean that we should sort of … cap their income?" he asks. "No, not really. Why? What's the point?"
We don't hear much from the super-rich, except a passing few insights from Richard Berman, an exhausted-looking 70-year-old venture capitalist, who offers a hilariously plaintive justification of the system: "Without big rewards, people like me aren't going to work 15-20 hours a day in order to get rich."
The rise of debt and the origins and consequences of the sub-prime crisis in the US are also touched on; look out for the footage of George Bush saying first: "We certainly don't want fine print to get in the way of people owning their own homes" and "achieving the goal of a five and a half million unique minority home owners" and then a few years later, after the financial crisis, remarking sternly: "We should not help out those who made the reckless decision to buy a home they could never afford."
The Divide [Official site]
'Why aren't we earning enough to live?' – how The Divide lays bare global inequality [Amelia Gentleman/The Guardian]