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Can we hope to achieve a more equal society?

If we believe what Walter Scheidel writes in his book "The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century" the answer is No.

Throughout history, civilisation and (rising) inequality have been two sides of the same coin.
At least during peaceful and normal times. In the long run, political and material inequality evolved in tandem.
There are only four different kinds of violent ruptures which have flattened inequality:

  • mass mobilization warfare,
  • transformative revolution,
  • state failure
  • lethal pandemics

Are there peaceful alternatives that have produced similar results? Scheidel reviews a wide variety of potential candidates, most notably land reform, economic crises, democratization, and economic development, but his conclusion is rather depressing: only if land reform comes with a lot of violence there is some leveling ; the same applies for the other measures: in peaceful times socio-economic inequality remains stable or keeps rising.

What about trade? - "A survey of trends in some eighty countries between 1970 and 2005 finds that freedom of international trade and concurrent deregulation significantly raised inequality. Although globalization generally favors economic growth, elites tend to benefit disproportionately in both developed and developing countries."

His summary is rather bleak:
"History teaches us two important things about leveling. One is that radical policy interventions occur in times of crisis.
The second lesson is even more straightforward: policymaking can take us only so far. Time and again the compression of material imbalances within societies was driven by violent forces either that were outside human control or that are now far beyond the scope of any viable political agenda."

Matias 8 July 5

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Are you talking about equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? They are two very different things. The former is most desirable, as it leads to a meritocracy. The latter less so as it can lead to a totalitarian state.


An equal society can only be archived if we stop pushing for desires.

Look, as humans I think conquest has been in our blood even before civilization.
We must get that jobs in place of another person.We must seek promotions in place of another. We must go to the stores and buy grains before another person finish it for us.

Equality is just but an English word. We can only try to give what we can give to those who need it by those who can afford to.


Human primates are extremely possessive (no progressive!) and hold on to whatever even if they don't use it. Unfortunately only violent means will shift patterns of possession for short periods until an α-human primate has figured out how to get more. However, not all violent conflicts shift the patterns. The Liechtensteins and the Windsors still hold on to their possessions even after 2 world wars.

People like Napoleon and Trump are just exceptions.


We'd have to actually work at it. Logically.

Which we really aren't doing right now.


There might get closer if we can Trump out of office. Getting rid of religion might get it closer, but not equal.


People are not equal and never will be.


Not with religious people in charge. And not with transphobes, homophobes, or any other kind of phobe in charge.


No. There will always be people who exhibit characteristics that make it impossible.


Yes, but at what cost?

SCal Level 7 July 5, 2019

Not until Humans have resolved the problem of artificial scarcity.


Can we become a more equal society. The answer is yes Can we achieve a totally equal society? I don't think so, due to human nature.

Achieving a more equal society will require the right policies and programs and constant vigilance.

@Bobsuruncle What caused your absurd rant? I do not know what you are saying or why.


In a word I would definitely agree. With 7.5 BILLION (we have long lost our sense of numbers) of us and counting the need for resources has and will outweigh any sense of an equal society. Tribalism is raising it's head all over the world and things will get even more ugly than they are now. I like to think the old adage "too many cooks spoil the broth" basically says too much diversity will spoil a unified society.


Sweden. Very equal, no revolutions, no wars, no state failure, no epidemics.


@JackPedigo conservatives have been predicting Sweden's imminent social and economic collapse for well over 50 years. Still hasn't happened.

Since the 80s or 90s even in Sweden inequality increases, like in the rest of the "West".

@MrBeelzeebubbles Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe with one of the smallest populations. As their population rises (from all sources) problems will also rise. Remember, the climate is not the most accommodating and can only support so many humans which is far fewer than the countries to the south of them. Population growth is not a panacea for problems but often exacerbates them.

I'm sure Malmo is a delightful city to live in.

@brentan is Sweden perfect? No. Same could be said for all the Scandinavian countries.
Are they doing way better than average? Statistics say yes.

@MrBeelzeebubbles Oh well, that's that then!

@JackPedigo Yet? That is a rather silly answer.

I have lived in three different countries. One was a communist one (Poland), one a social democratic (Sweden) one and the last one is suppose to be a democratic one (Australia). The best one for all of its citizens has been Sweden. Social democracy is the only viable political system if you want all society to thrive, even rich people.

@Jolanta Why? Can people here predict the future? Too many assume things will remain as they are and forget that problems we face today are global in nature. No one country is immune and it is pure foolishness to think so.

@Bobsuruncle isn't it funny how people of a certain stripe seem to always shout "WhAt aBoUt VeNeZuEla!!!" whenever any shortcomings in late stage capitalism are brought up?

What about Venezuela, an underdeveloped, corrupt, poor nation overly reliant on a single export industry where the local economy is dominated by a hostile international power? What about it? How is it relevent when discussing inequality in the developed world?

It's not. Be quiet. The grown-ups are talking.

But if we're going into whataboutery what about Norway?
And, to a lesser extent, what about Australia?
And New Zealand?
The Netherlands?
The UK?

There's a bunch of nations trying different mixes of social democracy, to differing levels of success. But the stats seem to show that the Scandinavian Model is the most successful on a whole bunch of metrics.

But don't worry, you keep on shouting "WhAt aBoUt VeNeZuEla!!!" like that means something.

@JackPedigo Why what? Did you not understand what I wrote. You need to look at what those countries are doing in relation to environment. Who is actually trying to do something or anything.

@Jolanta Excuse me but environmental problems are global. No one country has a wall built around them that protects them from Climate Change or any other environmental ills.

@JackPedigo Yes, that is true, however some countries are trying to do something about it. Are you aware that when it comes to plastic, every country wants to do something but the US will not be in it. We have to start somewhere.

@Jolanta I agree and the first place would be to recognize there even is a problem and, yes, our present government is actually backtracking on that. The second place would be to recognize the main cause of the problems and then set priorities. For me (any some other groups) the main cause is simply too many of us and too much consumption. However, the present administration does not have the final say and many people, groups and businesses are getting on the bandwagon. It is said, with all the catastrophes caused by Climate Change insurance companies are starting to go bankrupt. They are actively promoting measures to reduce the environmental problems. I just read today that some parts of the country (especially in the south) are actually buying back homes in flood prone areas. They then help the owners find or build a home is a safe zone and then destroy the former homes and turn the property into areas that can absorb the flood waters.

@MrBeelzeebubbles I have been there and saw things from a different perspective. When things change they often do so slowly. No country is immune.


What is the benefit to having material equality in a society? As long as those who don't have a lot are able to survive, society will continue to function normally. Isn't it when the inequality becomes so pronounced that a large portion of those at the bottom can no longer get by that they turn to violence for survival?

Some people are better equipped to manage money and resources, and thus will naturally tend to accumulate with those individuals. They also tend to have high degrees of trust with money that isn't theirs, meanig everyone has a reason to let them handle their wealth. Making a society that distributed everything equally would make it so that the process of lending your money is more difficult, thus making it more difficult for the economy to grow.

I don't think wealth inequality is a problem so much as an inconvenient truth about reality. Some people are naturaly stronger or better looking than others, or have more intelligence or have more sex, and it hapens to follow a similar distribution to wealth inequality. No one talks about redistribution of these things. If all the world's money was redistributed evenly, everyone would have about $9300. If all the material wealth and money was redistributed everyone would have about $34,000. That's it. That is how little everyone would have if they redistributed everything equally. It's not about the amount of inequality, it's about the size of the economy.


I think true equality will have to come through the evolution of the human being and in human nature. It will be a slow process. I think humans are still in the dominate/subordinate phase of the evolutionary process.

Humans today are devolving physically and, I fear, also socially. I would also suggest our reliance on technology is not evolution but the same old tactic as practiced for eons. The first thing we need to recognize we cannot dominate the life forces that support us. We haven't even begun to go in that direction.

As Scheidel shows in his book - and others have done so before - humans lived for the most part of their evolution in fairly equal communities: when they lived as hunter-gatherers. As long as there are no ressources to accumulate there are no dominance hierarchies. Only with the advent of the first cities inequality became dominant. In pre-civilization societies there are no haves vs. have-nots


I've started reading a book called Saharasia that claims violent cultures grew up for the first time because of the desertification in the Sahara through the Middle East to Central Asia. Theoretically, this harsher life changed a generally more peaceful matriarchal society to a patriarchal one. This is said to have happened about 6,500 years ago.


Well, aren’t you just the brightest little ray of sunshine this morning?! I believe Walter Scheidel...but will always hope.


We can always hope. Is that hope realistic? Probably not. But is it still worth striving for? Absolutely.

Buxx Level 7 July 5, 2019

You had better strive for stopping global warming first...we don't have much time left.

I posted this this last last week. Maybe I'm foolish to think this could ever happen.

"Would it be at all possible to have a money-less world someday? Everyone educated in their different subjects, working a half day week so everyone else can have. and also time off with their family.
No monetary division of mankind. Community leaders to make sure everything runs smoothly, instead of a govt. Everyone benefiting from the richness of this planet. Can this still be possible? and if so, how do we get rid of the money system?"

What do you think?

@TimeOutForMe I think its an unrealistic ideal that doesn't take human psychology into account. No matter how hard we try, we cannot remove competition from society. Still it is worth working toward because other inconceivable achievements will be gotten.


Anything is possible and it would be beneficial to humanity, society and the planet but, in my opinion, it will never happen.
See dahermit's response below.


The most aggressive (powerful) male monkey takes his pick of the females and the best food for himself without working for it and forces his will on all the others. That is why human monkeys have spread out over the earth's entire land mass (save for Antarctica) get away from the dominating monkey. If one kills the dominant monkey, another one will rise to fill that position. That is the abbreviated story of the human status quo. 🙂

Except that we have faculties other primates do not. It is how we know might does not make right. It is what our laws are aiming to countermand when theyre used properly.

As Scheidel shows in his book - and others have done so before - humans lived for the most part of their evolution in fairly equal communities: when they lived as hunter-gatherers. As long as there are no ressources to accumulate there are no dominance hierarchies. Only with the advent of the first cities inequality became dominant. In pre-civilization societies there are no haves vs. have-nots

@CommonHuman Your comments are not congruent with the majority of the people's lives who live in the world...especially Central, South American, India, China, Russia and other third world countries.

@Matias Except some hunters/gatherers had chiefs, and most likely bullies.

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