Class Warfare Blog

December 30, 2017

The Only Way to Less Inequality?

Here is a devastating assessment of the actual cost of the GOP’s recent tax bill. It is by Bill Honig, who I have met and consider to be a smart and honorable man.

Much of the GOP tax bill has been labeled as “bad news,” so I do not think you will be surprised to find out the news is worse that we thought. I bring this up because a new book has come out that addresses the history of inequality and the only forces that seem to reverse it for even small periods of time. The book is “The Great Leveler” by Walter Scheidel. Here is part of the description of that book (from

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.

This book supports my view that the fundamental purpose of civilization is to create inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity, for the benefit of the elites, both secular and religious, with the costs to be born by everyone else. And I have advocated, sometimes tongue in cheek, that it was time to get out the pitchforks and torches, but if this author is correct only “mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich” we are in quite dire straights. We have been making war on other countries for over 200 years of our existence, and it is a very rare occasion for war to intrude on our shores, and a “mass mobilization” for war means the war has to be very, very large indeed. That is a path, in this age of nuclear weapons, I do not wish to take. State collapse and catastrophic plagues aren’t appealing, so that leaves “transformative revolutions” to us. Such revolutions can be non-violent (rare) or violent and considering the polarization of the U.S. and our massive personal stockpiles of weaponry, it looks like a peaceful revolution will be a very good trick to pull off, indeed.

I do note, however, that the only way to avoid the toxic effects of wealth is to make sure great amounts of it either do not occur or are reduced when they occur. This means that a major function of a democracy is to … wait for it … wait … redistribute wealth away from the wealthy. Unfortunately, our governments have been captured by the wealthy who have been busy redistributing wealth to the wealthy for the past 40 years.

My only hope to avoid large scale violence is that the GOP’s paymasters will so overplay their hand that there will be a quasi-socialist revolution that will give power back to the people and defang the wealthy elites now running the show. My preference is for new political parties (two at least) as the ones we have have failed miserably and have too much baggage to carry into the future.


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