Abstract

Abstract:

Using the unprecedented 2014 Science special issue on inequality as a conceptual guide, this article examines the recent return of an assortment of fatalist arguments which claim that high levels of economic inequality are a natural, inevitable, and basic characteristic of human civilization and that, therefore, it would be incredibly difficult and damaging—if not impossible—to significantly reduce such income and wealth gaps. Classifying these varying arguments into four natural “laws” of inequality—mathematical, neoclassical, historical, and genetic—this article seeks to unpack the internal logic and external politics of such claims by placing them in their broader historical context. In so doing, this article will also show how certain aspects of Thomas Piketty’s earlier work played a key—albeit unintended—role in the recent renaissance in naturalizing inequality. In conclusion, this article reflects on other aspects of Piketty’s analysis that can be used to “denaturalize” inequality and reveal its highly contingent, political, structural, and institutional basis. Finally, the article will end with a call for historians of capitalism to pick up the denaturalizing mantle and seek to explicitly disprove and challenge the contention that high levels of inequality are all but inevitable.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2576-6406
Print ISSN
2576-6392
Pages
pp. 338-378
Launched on MUSE
2020-07-29
Open Access
No
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