At least, according to this: 700 years of Western inequality, in one chart – Vox
The chart shows the percentage of wealth owned by the top 10% since 1300. There are only two times it takes a major drop: during the Black Death in the 14th century and during World War II in the 20th century.
If true, it means that wealth concentration will continue unless another major catastrophe occurs (pandemic? global warming?).
There is lots to debate in all this. The numbers themselves are debatable (i.e. just how accurate and representative are they?) As well, there is an argument to be made that it doesn’t matter how inequally distributed wealth is if generally life for the 90% is good. But the Vox piece argues that such inequality leads to political instability and other problem, and that a good life for the majority isn’t enough.
Read the piece and consider it for yourself.
This is the question reviewed here: Are plagues and wars the only ways to reduce inequality? | Aeon Essays. (It’s a long read but a good one.)
If you are not familiar with this idea, consider this graph:
The higher the red line is, the greater inequality is. Throughout the last 2000+ years, inequality has been reduced only by terrible events like plague and war.
For a time post World War II, inequality was declining in much of the world. Then, around the 1980s, it started to increase and continues to do so. Now we have a race on. Population declines should occur over the next 100 years, leading to greater equality. To counter that, we have greater automation occurring which may boost inequality as those with the means to control the automation make much of the income and increase their wealth. Will this inequality lead to events that once again levels off the distribution of wealth and income? Or will we reach a balance somehow?
I highly recommend the article. Rising inequality will be one of the great strains on the 21st century, and this article helps to provide some context on the subject.
Bill Gates has a strong post on Piketty and inequality and I think it is one of the better ones I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything Gates argues for. For example, to counter Piketty at one point in the piece, he refers to data from the Fortune 400 records. I think the data that Piketty has gathered is much more significant than that and it is not something Gates accounts for. Still, it’s clear that Gates has thought hard about the book and his comments seem to reflect that.
Gates is on stronger ground when he points out areas concerning inequality that Piketty has left out or not touched upon. His assumption there, though, is that Piketty’s book is the end of the discussion on capitalism in the 21st century, when the better assumption is that the book is the start of a new and better discussion. I expect Piketty or followers and supporters of Piketty will be expanding into those areas based on the material in this book.
I am not surprised that Gates has wrote about this – Piketty uses him as an example at one point! Plus Gates is no stranger to wealth and capital and what to do with them. He’s a natural to write about inequality and the French economist.
All in all, a good read.
As this piece at Vox shows , economic inequality really is rising, no matter how you fuss with the data. Possibly because of the skepticism from some, Vox explores this using differing analysis. The conclusion is always the same: economically, things are getting worse.
Data aside, this anecdotal argument at the end of the piece nails it for me:
Outside the sphere of political debate, you also see the real world impact of inequality. Merrill Lynch recommends an investment strategy to its clients based on the growing economic clout of plutocrats, Singapore Airlines is now selling $18,400 first class cabin tickets, and observers think Apple is going to start selling a $10,000 watch. Conversely, Walmart is now primarily worried about competition from dollar stores. The executives at these companies are not hysterical liberals trying to drum up paranoia about inequality, they are trying to respond to real economic conditions — conditions that have entailed very poor wage growth paired with decent returns for those proserous enough to own lots of shares of stock.
Worthwhile and recommended.