Various authors of classic utopian novels were very obsessed with the thought of inequality. In almost all kinds of designs of utopian systems, private ownership of production and sometimes to an extent any kind of private ownership of property is fully outlawed as in the difference between the rich and poor. Looking at Tommaso Campanella’s novel in 1602, The City in the Sun, almost all of the inhabitants in the city whether they were male or female, had to wear the same clothes.
Also in Johann Valentin Andreae’s utopian book Description of the Republic of Christianopolis, there existed only two types of clothing available. Even the houses mentioned in the novel were all the same design in several Utopian novels. Barely anyone who cries of “social inequality” would in today’s world have any kind of dream calling for such radical ideas. Almost all of us agree that there should be some kind of discrepancies in the income we earn but the discrepancies should not be too huge. Let’s ask what’s too huge and what’s okay?
Another rarely asked question is: What would be the price we will have to pay to eliminate inequality? Four years ago, the highly regarded scholar of ancient history and a Stanford historian, Walter Scheider released a well-crafted historical analysis regarding this question: The Great Leveler: Violence and the history of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. Scheider came to the conclusion that societies that haven’t suffered any mass catastrophes and violence have never ever gone through any significant reductions in inequality.
Significant reductions in inequality have only ever been made due to violent shocks primarily coming from revolution, state failure, plague, and war and system collapse. According to Scheider, the significant levelers of the last century did not have any kind of peaceful social reforms, two world wars happened along with various revolutions by communists around the world. We had more than 100 million deaths due to the two world wars along with the experiment of communist social policies.
The Second World War case in point is the strongest example of “total war” Scheider was talking of as a leveler. Let’s use Japan: In 1938, the wealthiest 1% of the citizens got 19.9% of all reported income before the taxes and transfers. By the next seven years that followed, their share dropped by 2/3 to a lowly 6.4%. More than half of these losses were felt by the richest tenth of the wealthiest class. They had their income share collapse from 6.4% to a measly 1.9%.