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Energy, hierarchy and the origin of inequality

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  • Fix, Blair

Abstract

Where should we look to understand the origin of inequality? Most research focuses on three windows of evidence: (1) the archaeological record; (2) existing traditional societies; and (3) the historical record. I propose a fourth window of evidence - modern society itself. I hypothesize that we can infer the origin of inequality from the modern relation between energy use, hierarchy, and inequality. To do this, I create a large-scale numerical model that is informed by modern evidence. I then use this model to project modern trends into the past. The results are promising. The model predicts an explosion of inequality with the transition to agrarian levels of energy use. Subsequent increases in energy use are predicted to have little effect on inequality. The results are broadly consistent with the available evidence. This suggests that the hierarchical structure of modern societies may provide a window into the origin of inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Fix, Blair, 2018. "Energy, hierarchy and the origin of inequality," Working Papers on Capital as Power 2018/09, Capital As Power - Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:capwps:201809
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:zbw:esmono:157974 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:zbw:espost:157804 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Cusso, Xavier & Garrabou, Ramon & Tello, Enric, 2006. "Social metabolism in an agrarian region of Catalonia (Spain) in 1860-1870: Flows, energy balance and land use," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 49-65, June.
    4. Ian Morris, 2013. "The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9830.
    5. repec:zbw:caprev:157914 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Baker, George & Gibbs, Michael & Holmstrom, Bengt, 1993. "Hierarchies and compensation: A case study," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(2-3), pages 366-378, April.
    7. Treble, John & van Gameren, Edwin & Bridges, Sarah & Barmby, Tim, 2001. "The internal economics of the firm: further evidence from personnel data," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(5), pages 531-552, December.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    origin of inequality; hierarchy; energy; institution size; numerical model; function; coercion;

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