Redistribution or cataclysm

Stanford University professor Walter Scheidel has written a book, ‘The Great Leveler’1, in which he argues that income inequality is an inevitable byproduct of civilisation, and that when this becomes too extreme it can lead to societal upheaval brought about by war, state collapse or revolution, or by natural disasters2.

One of Scheidel’s initial points is that the ways we measure inequality are inadequate. For example, the Gini coefficient does not properly measure the incomes of the extremely rich, nor does it take account of the vast offshore wealth3, such as that hidden by Malcolm Turnbull in the Caymans, so that he can minimise his tax. However, even on official measures, the concentration of wealth is proceeding rapidly. Now the number of billionaires controlling the equivalent of half of the world’s wealth has shrunk from several hundred, to a few dozen2. Indeed, just eight men own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity.

Scheidel paints a very pessimistic picture as if the only way to overcome the disparity between rich and poor is through some cataclysmic event. Paul Mason, in the Guardian, argues that the relatively recent phenomenon of social democracy may indeed head off these cataclysms, but realises that social democracy has “lost the will to redistribute” and has “opened the door to the past”3with the return of kleptocrats and corrupt politicians. I would argue that the kleptocrats have always been there, it is just that they have been given a new lease of life by the lie that is neoliberal economics, or trickle-down, as it is laughably called. This is simply a criminal enterprise by those in big business and the politicians who have been bought by them, to restore the largesse to which the wealthy have become accustomed. This system allows them to pay minimal tax, minimal wages, minimal penalty rates, and for the government to decrease services to the general populace, or to sell those services off to their donors in business, so the donations can keep coming.

The only hope we have in Australia of preventing the further increase in inequality is to dump this government in the hope that the alternative understands that the time for neoliberal economics is over. If they do not, then the time of pitchforks will follow very soon thereafter.


  1. Scheidel, W., 2017. The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 536 p.


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