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A Dilemma for Humanity: Stark Inequality or Total War? New York Times

Read the full New York Times article, “A Dilemma for Humanity: Stark Inequality or Total War

Is there nothing to be done about galloping inequality?

History — from Ancient Rome through the Gilded Age; from the Russian Revolution to the Great Compression of incomes across the West in the middle of the 20th century — suggests that reversing the trend toward greater concentrations of income, in the United States and across the world, might be, in fact, nearly impossible.

That’s the bleak argument of Walter Scheidel, a professor of history at Stanford. . . . He goes so far as to state that “only all-out thermonuclear war might fundamentally reset the existing distribution of resources.”

[S]couring through the historical record, he detects a pattern: From the Stone Age to the present, ever since humankind produced a surplus to hoard, economic development has almost always led to greater inequality. There is one big thing with the power to stop this dynamic, but it’s not pretty: violence.

The big equalizing moments in history may not have always have the same cause, he writes, “but they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order.” . . .

Many social scientists — not to say left-leaning politicians — would like to believe that there are ways to push back: higher minimum wages, perhaps a universal basic income to help curb poverty; sharply higher income tax rates for the rich along with a wealth tax; a weakening of intellectual property rules, curbs on monopolies and coordination of labor standards around the world; maybe a dollop of capital given to each citizen so all can benefit from the high returns on investment.

Dream on. As Professor Scheidel bluntly puts it: “Serious consideration of the means required to mobilize political majorities for implementing any of this advocacy is conspicuous by its absence.”


Income inequality has exploded in the U.S. and in California over the past four decades, as shown in the above graph. There are extreme income inequalities for the top 10% and top 1% in the U.S.

Visit The City Project’s page on Income and Inequality.