Geoffrey Fox

Reflections & Inquiries

Crises and inequality


Professor Scheidel tells us that the only effective social leveler is all-out war. There is another sort of crisis brewing, short of thermonuclear war (though not without violence), destabilizing the patterns that are producing greater inequality. We are experiencing its effects already: Inequality (as Thomas Piketty predicted) has grown so great and become so obvious that more and more people are forced to take desperate measures just to survive — such as trying to cross the Aegean by any means possible, or fleeing Central America, or Burma, or other places in extremely dangerous conditions. Others, not quite that desperate but fearful of greater economic and social decline, demand change and are ready, even eager, to join mass movements that promise some solution — what we’ve been calling (very loosely) “populism”.  The solutions offered by Marine LePen, or Donald Trump, or Nigel Farage or Hungary’s Jobbik, etc., are no doubt illusory, but they are destabilizing, forcing adjustments that sometimes produce even greater inequality, stimulating violence by their supporters and their opponents. Even more destabilizing are the movements including Taliban, Daesh, etc., extremely violent but not (so far) with the capacity to spark a global thermonuclear war. And from the rubble, whether literal (as in Aleppo) or institutional (as some now fear for Italy), the survivors will have no choice but to rebuild, to work together, and in  more equal conditions.

My take: The redistribution of wealth and opportunities has always required and will continue to require violence, because the more privileged have the resources to resist. The war for redistribution is already underway, in theaters from the Philippines to Cannonball, N.D., from Syria to Nigeria to Honduras, and violence just short of war in even as unlikely places as Finland, all spurred by galloping gap in life-chances. The possibility of some of these protest movements growing into war-seekers reminiscent of the Fascists and Nazis of the past century, and driving us into greater wars, is real. But not inevitable. As always, the future depends on us. But we are forewarned.

Panorama de la Commune de Paris