A book excerpt and interview with Walter Scheidel, author of “The Great Leveler” in The Economist:
In an age of widening inequality, Walter Scheidel believes he has cracked the code on how to overcome it. In “The Great Leveler”, the Stanford professor posits that throughout history, economic inequality has only been rectified by one of the “Four Horsemen of Leveling”: warfare, revolution, state collapse and plague.
So are liberal democracies doomed to a repeat of the pattern that saw the gilded age give way to a breakdown of society? Or can they legislate a way out of the ominous cycle of brutal inequality and potential violence?
“For more substantial levelling to occur, the established order needs to be shaken up,” he says. “The greater the shock to the system, the easier it becomes to reduce privilege at the top.” Yet nothing is inevitable, and Mr Scheidel urges that society become “more creative” in devising policies that can be implemented. The Economist’s Open Future initiative asked Mr Scheidel to reply to five questions. An excerpt from the book appears thereafter.