April 18, 2017 in Daily Bulletin
The Economist reviewed “The Great Leveller: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century” by Walter Scheidel:
- Going back to the Stone Ages, only four things have been found to consistently reduce inequality. First, an epidemic like the Black Death.
- Second, the collapse of a state – like the end of the western Roman Empire.
- Third, a revolution, like the ones the Russians had in the 20th century.
- Fourth, a war of mass mobilization.
- Conversely financial crises may end up increasing inequality. Policies like land reform or debt relief were found to have little effect – unless violence was involved.
- Violence isn’t required to reduce inequality but it helps. Bombs destroy buildings and machines owned by the rich. And to fight wars governments have to tax those who have the most money.
- The comradery that wars create also drive up trade union membership, further mitigating inequality.
- All this means that inequality may only get worse. Plagues seem less likely. And in a world of nuclear weapons it’s unclear that a war of mass mobilization will ever be required.
- On the bright side while inequality within countries might march inexorably upwards, that between countries has fallen.