The Great Leveler Summary – Walter Scheidel
What’s in it for me? Learn why democracy and capitalism have been inefficient in eliminating inequality.
The Great Leveler Summary – The overriding thought – in the West at least – is that democracy and capitalism have improved the lives of modern citizens. Democracy, in principle, promotes fairness and equality among the members of a society, and capitalism has extended the ownership of property beyond the rich and the noble.
This article suggests that the historical evidence points to the contrary: the rise of capitalism and democracy have failed to solve the problem of inequality. The author provides a plethora of examples from different societies and time periods from around the world to illustrate how terrible events and disasters have actually played a bigger role in dealing with inequality.
By going through the historical efforts by governments to curb inequality – and their consequent outcomes – you’ll be better informed as to how you can help in today’s fight to build a more equal world.
In this article you’ll find out:
- how certain ancient societies were socially structured;
- when and where the first visible signs of inequality occurred; and
- one of the worst places you could live.
A better quality of life gave rise to inequality, before technological advancements made it worse.
The ice age was a difficult period for humanity. When it finally ended, you’d expect that our lives would’ve gotten better. Yet, while in some ways they did, not all the changes that came with the improved climate were positive.
As the last ice age came to an end some 11,700 years ago, we entered a period of climate stability known as the Holocene. During this time, humans who had settled in Middle East began cultivating the land and producing food, eventually resulting in a surplus. This marked the start of disequalization, as some began to accumulate larger areas of land and more food resources while employing others to work on their property. The structure of society was beginning to take shape.
In contrast to earlier hunter-gatherer societies in which power was spread equally and horizontally, the new society that emerged during the Holocene was structured hierarchically, with stark differences between rich and poor. Evidence for this discrepancy comes from archeological remains dating back 11,000 years, showing for the first time large differences in household sizes. In addition, the fish bones found in the perimeter of the larger households indicate that these people were eating large fish, whereas in the smaller houses, small fish were the norm.
In addition to the increased quality of life, technological improvements also impacted societies for the worse. Not even smaller tribal communities could escape inequality. During the period AD 500-700, the Chumash tribe – who lived on the Californian coast – developed a new type of canoe that increased the number of fishermen journeying out into the deep sea to catch fish. In no time, men, who controlled and managed the canoes, rose to dominate the tribe. Males secured control over tribal land, religious ceremonies and the war-making. As gratitude for their safety, other members of the tribe offered the male chiefs key trade items such as food and shells.
As you can see, inequality has been around for a long time – brought about by increased quality of life as well as technological advancements. In the next blink, we’ll see what continued to drive this divide.
In the beginning, land ownership was egalitarian, but in certain circles property soon became concentrated.
Today we hear plenty of talk about the one percent of the population controlling the majority of the money available in the world, but that wasn’t always the case……..