• The Great Leveler

  • Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century
  • De : Walter Scheidel
  • Lu par : Joel Richards
  • Durée : 17 h et 31 min
  • Version intégrale Livre audio
  • Date de publication : 10/10/2017
  • Langue : Anglais
  • Éditeur : Tantor Audio
  • 5 out of 5 stars 5,0 (1 notation)

Description

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 20th 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.
©2017 Princeton University Press (P)2017 Tantor
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Critiques

"Sweeping and provocative." ( New Yorker)
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5 out of 5 stars
Auteur(s) : Judy Corstjens le 01/02/2018

Real, relevant history

At school history seemed to be about dry dates and battles and kings and not about groups of people with whom one could identify and sympathise. But history writing in the last 20 years seems to have woken up to theory, cause and effect, and thus have meaning. Maybe it is just me growing up.

This book is similar to 'Why Nations Fail' by Robinson and Acemoglu, in that it has a thesis and then grids up history by time and geography to find numerous sample units to test or illustrate the thesis. Basic thesis is that in times of relative stability (often, but not always, accompanied by economic development) the powerful members of the society find ways to extract much of the surplus economic output and hold on to it. i.e. in times of relative stability inequality slowly ratchets upwards. This drift towards inequality is then (occasionally) punctured by mass mobilisation war, state collapse, revolution or plague. Everyone loses (including sometimes their life), but the rich tend to lose more. There is much detail about the differences and degree, but in the end the conclusion is that it generally takes significant force (violence or misfortune) to separate the powerful and the bourgeoisie from their comforts. So the relevance for today is: is there a peaceful mechanism that we can use to stop our modern societies from becoming more unequal than they already are? After an unprecedented 'compression' brought about by the two WWs and the revolutions of the last (violent) century, almost all states have drifted towards greater inequality since about 1975. This is not a political book, but it certainly provides an interesting historical perspective on a question that is a political hot potato, and that is going to be around for a while.

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