"Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

'The Great Leveler'

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"Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#1  Postby Mike_L » Feb 20, 2018 10:16 am

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The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century

Summary
How only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout world history.

Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes. Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return. The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality. The "Four Horsemen" of leveling―mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues―have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich. Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century. Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.

An essential contribution to the debate about inequality, The Great Leveler provides important new insights about why inequality is so persistent―and why it is unlikely to decline anytime soon.
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#2  Postby surreptitious57 » Feb 20, 2018 11:28 am

War and revolution and recession and disaster are the four major ones
This is because they affect society as a whole not just certain sections
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#3  Postby zulumoose » Feb 20, 2018 11:33 am

I don't think lopping off the top of the pyramid qualifies as a leveller except geometrically.

Inequality can only be said to have been reduced in any meaningful way when poverty is reduced, regardless of whether the rich are affected. If the rich are affected and the poor do not benefit nothing has been achieved.

What provides hope is that access to information and the global community is becoming exponentially easier and faster. War has been reduced dramatically, and in many of the most educated and peaceful societies, poverty is rare and there is great support for social services, and an increased focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. Birth rates are also low in such places.

I think such enlightenment is the future for fairer distribution of wealth and resources, although you could say that fairness has not been achieved if competition does not exist and those with the most resources are not free to leverage economies of scale to become more competitive and profitable. In a fair society the rich will always increase their wealth, it just must not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others or become exploitation.
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#4  Postby Scot Dutchy » Feb 20, 2018 11:46 am

I put it down to one thing: education. People should be taught what society is and their responsibility within it.
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#5  Postby Mike_L » Feb 20, 2018 12:57 pm

zulumoose wrote:I don't think lopping off the top of the pyramid qualifies as a leveller except geometrically.

Inequality can only be said to have been reduced in any meaningful way when poverty is reduced, regardless of whether the rich are affected. If the rich are affected and the poor do not benefit nothing has been achieved.

Indeed yes. Here in SA, we have the likes of Julius Malema agitating for the revolutionary route. His course of action would just pin the country onto the Zimbabwe template.

What provides hope is that access to information and the global community is becoming exponentially easier and faster. War has been reduced dramatically, and in many of the most educated and peaceful societies, poverty is rare and there is great support for social services, and an increased focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. Birth rates are also low in such places.

One view (from the right wing) is that the migrant crisis currently underway in Europe will substantially change many of those societies for the worse. While that view is objectionable to the left wing, it's not unimaginable that the thesis is nevertheless depressingly correct.

I think such enlightenment is the future for fairer distribution of wealth and resources, although you could say that fairness has not been achieved if competition does not exist and those with the most resources are not free to leverage economies of scale to become more competitive and profitable. In a fair society the rich will always increase their wealth, it just must not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others or become exploitation.

That's certainly the ideal scenario.
However, "must not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others or become exploitation" implies that fair legislation will prevent exploitation. That doesn't always work in practice... largely because those who would benefit from an exploitative environment are the very ones enacting the legislation (or influencing those who do). This is why predatory capitalism exists today in many parts of the 'West'... an evil that differs substantially from the great socialist failures of, for example, the Soviet Union, but is ruinous in its own insidious way.
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Scot Dutchy wrote:I put it down to one thing: education. People should be taught what society is and their responsibility within it.

No hope there, I'm afraid. Societies have always sought to impose a sense of awareness and responsibility on their members (through schools, churches, etc.), but those in positions of power and influence can always (and often do) ride roughshod over such niceties. Even if it's just a handful of them they can do a lot of harm from the lofty positions they occupy.
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#6  Postby Scot Dutchy » Feb 20, 2018 12:59 pm

Not here Mike.
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#7  Postby Cito di Pense » Feb 20, 2018 1:14 pm

Scot Dutchy wrote:Not here Mike.


I don't doubt it for a minute, Scot. They caught one, but who knows how many others are running around loose?

NL has deep crooks, just like anyplace else. Take your jingoism and shove it.

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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#8  Postby zulumoose » Feb 20, 2018 1:18 pm

those who would benefit from an exploitative environment are the very ones enacting the legislation (or influencing those who do)


I would submit that the more enlightened and mature the society, the less that pattern is repeated. Just look at which are the countries where corrupt politicians fight back, and in which countries it is more normal for them to resign quietly when found with their hands in the cookie jar.
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#9  Postby Mike_L » Feb 20, 2018 1:37 pm

zulumoose wrote:
those who would benefit from an exploitative environment are the very ones enacting the legislation (or influencing those who do)


I would submit that the more enlightened and mature the society, the less that pattern is repeated. Just look at which are the countries where corrupt politicians fight back, and in which countries it is more normal for them to resign quietly when found with their hands in the cookie jar.

True. But, according to Scheidel, history would suggest that the positive changes are too small and/or occur too slowly.
It's not encouraging that even Steven Pinker speaks well of the book! :shock:
(From the amazon.com page...)
"If you think you've heard it all about economic inequality, think again. Walter Scheidel's analysis of what really reduces inequality is provocative, but he makes the case with reason, evidence, and style."--Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#10  Postby zulumoose » Feb 20, 2018 2:07 pm

True. But, according to Scheidel, history would suggest that the positive changes are too small and/or occur too slowly.


History isn't very informative about what will happen in a world of instantaneous free global communication, which is where we almost are now, except for very underdeveloped places, and it is changing rapidly.

It's not encouraging that even Steven Pinker speaks well of the book!


He basically declared it to be a novel, thought-provoking approach that is well argued, that doesn't mean he endorses the conclusion, or that it is applicable to the future (which, as they say, isn't what it used to be)
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#11  Postby Mike_L » Feb 20, 2018 2:18 pm

zulumoose wrote:
True. But, according to Scheidel, history would suggest that the positive changes are too small and/or occur too slowly.


History isn't very informative about what will happen in a world of instantaneous free global communication, which is where we almost are now, except for very underdeveloped places, and it is changing rapidly.

Yes, this is promising new ground. :thumbup:

zulumoose wrote:
It's not encouraging that even Steven Pinker speaks well of the book!


He basically declared it to be a novel, thought-provoking approach that is well argued, that doesn't mean he endorses the conclusion, or that it is applicable to the future (which, as they say, isn't what it used to be)

True. :nod:
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Re: "Only Catastrophe Can Reduce Wealth Inequality"

#12  Postby Sendraks » Feb 20, 2018 3:41 pm

Get all the boomers and their spawn to die suddenly, would free up a sizeable chunk of wealth, including a goodly portion of UK housing stock.
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