Origins of inequality include chance
December 22, 2017 4:00 PM Subscribe
Inequality in nature and society is a recent paper by Scheffer, van Bavel, van de Leemput, and van Nes in the journal PNAS that argues that both natural and economic inequality can arise by chance:
Inequality is one of the main drivers of social tension. We show striking similarities between patterns of inequality between species abundances in nature and wealth in society. We demonstrate that in the absence of equalizing forces, such large inequality will arise from chance alone. While natural enemies have an equalizing effect in nature, inequality in societies can be suppressed by wealth-equalizing institutions. However, over the past millennium, such institutions have been weakened during periods of societal upscaling. Our analysis suggests that due to the very same mathematical principle that rules natural communities (indeed, a “law of nature”) extreme wealth inequality is inevitable in a globalizing world unless effective wealth-equalizing institutions are installed on a global scale.The authors use a mathematical model to show that when gains or losses are multiplicative (as occurs in population growth or interest-earning investments), random fluctuations are enough to produce high levels of inequality. The work shows how inequality arises naturally, and wealth-distributing mechanisms like progressive taxation are necessary to avoid exterme inequality.
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