Inequality in Our Age
The purpose of this essay is to outline the evolution of inequality in the post-World War II period and the causes shaping that evolution. The starting proposition of the essay is that both inequality and the social tolerance of inequality have substantially increased almost everywhere over this period. The increase in inequality over this period, however, consists of divergent changes over two sub-periods: for the first three decades after the end of WWII inequality actually declined over much of the world; over the last three decades the increase in inequality has afflicted pretty much every significant human society. While in the decades immediately after WWII human societies almost everywhere were, at least seemingly, engaged in finding ways to reduce inequality, in the last three decades societies everywhere have demonstrated greater tolerance of inequality. The essay also argues that these trends in inequality were not determined by inevitable technological, economic or historical forces but largely by policy choices made by political forces. Finally it argues that, the demise of traditional standard bearers of equality, such as the actually-existing socialist system and the quest for non-capitalist development in the Third World, and the emergence of capitalism as the only economic system, do not signal the “end of history” for the human pursuit of equality. Plenty of paths to greater equality are available to contemporary societies that are serious in their pursuit of the goal.
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