rome china
The Roman elite were the original 1%. Status, wealth, power: the good life. Unless they happened to find themselves on a conscription list, in which case they were soon parted from their property, and their lives. The elites of the Chinese dynasties were in a similar position. Constant infighting and jockeying for influence and power allowed for a lot of turnover in the elite class. Families may have reigned for generations only to be wiped out or made paupers. But as long as peace reigned, even these means of coercive redistribution of property did nothing to change the overall situation. In fact, the social divisions polarized even further and inequality rose - often to the breaking point. In fact, inequality in the empires probably reached the maximum levels possible at the time: a small group of people had all the wealth, while the 90% on the bottom lived at subsistence levels.

Today on MindMatters we discuss Chapter two of Walter Scheidel's book, The Great Leveler, which explores the ancient Roman and Chinese empires: the development of their respective aristocracies, the forms in which extreme inequality manifested, and the violence and coercion it took to create and maintain such radical disparities in wealth. We may live in a different world today in many respects, but some things never change.

Running Time: 01:19:08

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