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We wonder about poverty. Why some people should have it all, while millions of poor starve? Why can’t the world be more fair, egalitarian? Can we do something about it? Can we change the world?

The idea that only mass widespread violence narrows inequality is intriguing.

Walter Scheidel, in his book ‘The Great Leveller’, provides numerous compelling examples from stone age to present age. He points out inequality naturally widens over time, despite all human attempts to fight it. Only extreme violence narrows the inequality gap, for a while, and soon the gap starts to widen again. Specifically, four forms of extreme violence – wars, revolutions, state failure & disease – are capable of leveling inequality. He notes that each of these four possible levelers (in their extreme widespread forms) have a remote chance of showing up in the near future.

That implies that great ideas & benign actions by individuals, groups, institutions & governments, even when executed well, can do little to bring down inequality.

Of course, egalitarian pockets like Sweden exist. But at what costs? Did the rise of Sweden make some other country or community less equal?

The same reasoning could be extended to other types of inequalities – social, political, gender etc.  Wealth has an indirect influence on all other types of inequalities.

So, what can one do? Start a global war? Or just sit & watch the rise and fall of inequality?

Perhaps the best one can do is to be fair & egalitarian in one’s own personal life. One can associate and work with groups, communities & institutions in an attempt to bring down inequalities of all kinds. But, dreams about making the world just and equal can only remain that – dreams (at least in one’s own life time)

Let us do our bit.

Nature, over time, will do the rest.

 

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