10 September 2018   2 comments

In virtually every country on the planet, economic inequality is getting worse.  For some, like the US, the trend has been going on since the 1980s.  For others, like Brazil and China, the divergence between rich and poor is more recent, reversing difficult attempts to even out economic disparities.  Walter Scheidel of Stanford University has written a book (The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Centuryon the historic points where economic inequality was reversed.  In an interview with the Economist, which summarizes his argument–“throughout history, economic inequality has only been rectified by one of the “Four Horsemen of Leveling”: warfare, revolution, state collapse and plague”–Scheidel expands on his evidence.  The Economist quotes from the book:

“There was always one Big Reason behind every known episode of substantial leveling. There was one Big Reason why John D. Rockefeller was an entire order of magnitude richer in real terms than his richest compatriots one and two generations later, why the Britain of Downton Abbey gave way to a society known for universal free healthcare and powerful labor unions, why in industrialized nations around the globe the gap between rich and poor was so much smaller in the third quarter of the twentieth century than it had been at its beginning – and, indeed, why a hundred generations earlier ancient Spartans and Athenians had embraced ideals of equality and sought to put them into practice. There was one Big Reason why by the 1950s the Chinese village of Zhangghuangcun had come to boast a perfectly egalitarian distribution of farmland; one Big Reason why the high and mighty of Lower Egypt 3,000 years ago had to bury their dead with hand-me-downs or in shoddily manufactured coffins, why the remnants of the Roman aristocracy lined up for handouts from the pope and the successors of Maya chiefs subsisted on the same diet as hoi polloi; and one Big Reason why humble farmhands in Byzantine and early Islamic Egypt and carpenters in late medieval England and hired workers in early modern Mexico earned more and ate better than their peers before or after. These Big Reasons were not all the same, but they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order. Across recorded history, the periodic compressions of inequality brought about by mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and pandemics have invariably dwarfed any known instances of equalization by entirely peaceful means.”

The argument is huge and difficult to sustain over the time period Scheidel uses.  Nonetheless, I found the book to be engaging and it carried an intuitive ring of truth.  As I read it, I kept telling myself that history is not a sure guide to the future, but it certainly does make us think.


The Sweden Democrats did not do as well as many had feared in the national election.  Instead of breaking the 20% barrier, the party only won 17.6%, not a huge percentage but better than the 12.9% it garnered last year.  The final composition of the Swedish Government remains unclear as none of the political alliances achieved 50% of the seats.  But the business of governance will be significantly more complicated because of the power of the right-wing.  Moreover, the results do not really shed light on the cause of the popularity of the right wing parties which we simply label as “populist”.  The popularity could be economic stagnation among certain groups or a backlash against immigration and refugees.  The analysis of the Swedish election is quite intricate and complicated. 

Results of the Swedish Election


National Security Advisor John Bolton gave an address to the Federalist Society in Washington, DC today (the video of the address is below).  The speech was entitled “Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats” and it was in response to a request by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into “alleged war crimes committed by the US military and intelligence officials in Afghanistan, especially over the abuse of detainees.”  The ICC was finally created in July 2002 but the US signed the Treaty (The Rome Statute) establishing it in 2000.  The US Senate never ratified the Treaty and in July 2002 US President Bush ordered that the US revoke its signature to the Treaty,  The US objections to the ICC are well-known and they center over the issue of sovereignty.  The US White House issued a statement on the ICC which stated, in part:

  • If the ICC formally proceeds with opening an investigation, the Trump Administration will consider the following steps:
    • We will negotiate even more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering United States persons to the ICC.
    • To the extent permitted by United States law, we will ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, sanction their funds in the United States financial system, and, prosecute them in the United States criminal system.
    • We will consider taking steps in the United Nations Security Council to constrain the Court’s sweeping powers, including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute.
  • This Administration will fight back to protect American constitutionalism, our sovereignty, and our citizens. As always, in every decision we make, we will put the interests of the American People first.

The White House position, echoed by Bolton in his speech, goes too far by raising the issue of banning judges and lawyers simply because they work with or for the ICC.  Ambassador David Scheffer (retired) critiques the US position:

“John Bolton’s speech today isolates the United States from international criminal justice and severely undermines our leadership in bringing perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice elsewhere in the world. The double standard set forth in his speech will likely play well with authoritarian regimes, which will resist accountability for atrocity crimes and ignore international efforts to advance the rule of law. This was a speech soaked in fear and Bolton sounded the message, once again, that the United States is intimidated by international law and multilateral organizations. I saw not strength but weakness conveyed today by the Trump Administration.”

The speech and the statement are just additional evidence that the US continues to move away from a rules-based international system, back into the balance of power system of the 19th century.


Posted September 10, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

2 responses to “10 September 2018

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Why is the National Security Advisor giving a speech on this topic, to this audience, at this time? This is far outside his portfolio and seems to be more evidence of the lack of focus within this administration.


    • Bolton has had nothing but vitriol for the ICC since it was created. Since the ICC announced that it was going to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan, the US didn’t have much choice but to address the matter. But the ICC treaty requires that states have to act upon its findings before it itself can take any action. So the US would have had full control over the matter if the evidence had warranted punishment.
      You are absolutely correct about the lack of focus in the administration. They do not have a clue. It is frightening.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: