French economist Piketty pens brief history of equality

French economist Thomas Piketty offers a comparative history of inequalities among social classes in human societies in his new book as he looks at the great movements that have made the modern world for better and worse: the growth of capitalism, revolutions, imperialism, slaverywars, and the building of the welfare state.

“A Brief History of Equality”, published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, is slated for release on April 19. It was first published in French as “Une breve Histoire de legalite” last year and has been translated by Steven Rendall.

“It’s easy to be pessimistic about inequality. We know it has increased dramatically in many parts of the world over the past two generations. No one has done more to reveal the problem than Thomas Piketty, ”a statement from the publishers said.

“Now, in this surprising and powerful new work, Piketty reminds us that the grand sweep of history gives us reasons to be optimistic. Over the centuries, he shows, we have been moving towards greater equality, ”it says.

Piketty says his book offers a “comparative history of inequalities among social classes in human societies. Or rather, it offers a history of equality, because, as we shall see, there has been a long-term movement over the course of history toward more social, economic, and political equality ”.

Revolts and revolutions, social struggles and crises play a central role in the history of equality discussed in the book.

This history is also punctuated by multiple phases of regression and identitarian introversion, according to the author.

Piketty shows how human societies have moved fitfully toward a more just distribution of income and assets, a reduction of racial and gender inequalities, and greater access to health care, educationand the rights of citizenship.

Piketty, a professor at the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Paris School of Economics and Codirector of the World Inequality Lab, says it was possible to write this book today “chiefly because of the many international studies that have profoundly renewed research in economic and social history in recent decades ”.

So what are the main lessons that can be drawn from this new economic and social history? The author says the most obvious is inequality is first of all a social, historical, and political construction.

“In other words, for the same level of economic or technological development, there are always many different ways of organizing a property system or a border system, a social and political system or a fiscal and educational system. These options are political in nature, ”he writes.

Another lesson is that since the end of the 18th century there has been a long-term movement toward equality, he says.

This is the consequence of conflicts and revolts against injustice that have made it possible to transform power relationships and overthrow institutions supported by the dominant classes, which seek to structure social inequality in a way that benefits them, and to replace them with new institutions and new social, economic, and political rules that are more equitable and emancipatory for the majority, he elaborates .

Piketty says that more recently, the financial crisis of 2008 and the Covid pandemic have already begun to overturn various certainties that shortly before had been considered irrefutable, certainties concerning, for example, the acceptable level of public debt or the role of central banks.

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