Inequality

Inequality is generally considered a bad thing, although it is obvious that some view it as an inherent quality of humanity and society. Those, of course, are usually people who consider themselves superior to others and want to maintain their privileged status. Walter Scheidel’s “The Great Leveler” makes the point that in the global history from the Stone Age to today, inequality never dies peacefully. The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling: mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues―have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich.

Nothing less seems to have worked but the Jewish custom of Sabbatical Years and Jubilee Years offers a hint of how a peaceful resolution might be effected.

The chief driver of inequality has always been debt (which existed well before money was invented and need not be financial – see David Graber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”). What would be the consequences if absolute equality – wealth and power – were periodically enforced?

The results would vary by country, as does the level and severity of inequality worldwide, but my guess for the United states is that there would be a significant improvement in the circumstances of about 40% of the population, a modest improvement for the next 40%, a modest decline for the next 15-18% and a serious decline for those in the top 2-5%.

Even assuming such a redistribution were possible and desirable, the first thing to notice is that – at least in our current world – the process implies an entity with sufficient authority and power to make it happen. And that the last step of such a process would consist of the enforcing entity to give up authority and power.