December 24th, 2002

The Shifting Nature of Inequality

This point got brought up in the course of Saturday night's discussion at ebeloic's apartment--I think I raised it, but I'm not altogether sure.

The rapid growth of income inequality over the past two centuries, as Europe, North America, Japan, and selected other regions have managed to complete the transition to post-industrialism, most of Latin America and parts of Asia have managed to industrialize to at least a middling area, and the rest of the world has only begun to move beyond rural agricultural economies. The resulting unequal distribution of wealth globally has rightly been seen as one of the major causes of global instability.

I wonder, though, if the world before the Industrial Revolution really was that egalitarian. The income differential between, say, Surat and Amsterdam, might have been marginal; but then, wealth was distributed quite unevenly worldwide on the basis of class. With industrialization and the consequent creation of a global economy, income inequality gradually ceased to be linked to class in national societies, particularly with the development of the welfare state abroad and the establishment of colonial/semi-colonial relationships with the non-industrial world. Income differentials eventually ended up, in the current semi-free global economy of nowadays still hindered by limits on free trade and migration, being defined by global classes: not only core and periphery, but the different gradations within core and periphery.

(Canada and the United States both belong to the core, but Canada traditionally provided labour and raw materials to the United States; Afghanistan and Pakistan both belong to the periphery, but even before the Soviet invasion of the former country Afghanistani labour migration to Pakistan had a long history; Israel, Greece, Poland, Argentina, South Korea, and Thailand belong to that nebulous category of the semiperiphery.)

The closer you are to the core, the larger the middle and upper classes; the farther away from the core, the more impoverished your population.

A hypothesis: If global barriers to free trade and migration do come down, global income might well be more evenly distributed on the international level, but internally (especially in developed countries) income inequality will increase sharply, as income distribution returns to its historic patterns of global equality and class inequality.


2400AD Notes: 1

Earlier, I proposed a setting </i>2400AD</i>. As I wrote, it would combine:

  • The 2300AD physical universe--stutterwarp, the location of planets, the location of alien species--more-or-less unchanged from Canon.

  • The Traveller universe's broader astropolitical scope, featuring a Vilani-dominated Ziru Sirka. The Ziru Sirka hasn't penetrated the Solomani Rim sector but has, over the 2nd and 23rd centuries, begun to slowly decline under the weight of barbarian raids and its cumbersome interstellar economy.

  • The Transhuman Space technological milieu (ubiquitous genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, a terraformed Mars, a densely-populated outer Solar System and belt).

  • And, my own Tripartite Alliance Earth alternate history, projected to 2400.

Here's some initial thoughts on the setting:

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2400AD Notes: 2

According to the recent GURPS Traveller sourcebook Rim of Fire: The Solomani Rim Sourcebook, "[a]t about [-5000 Imperial, roughly 480 BCE], the Vilani established their first foothold in the Rim, at Karpaty (then called Lakish) [in the Harlequin subsector]." (38) For the purposes of the 2400AD timeline, I'll assume that the Ziru Sirka advanced no further. There likely won't be a notable Vilani presence in the Alpha Crucis sector. In the Solomani Rim sector, there would be a Vilani presence in the coreward area of Harlequin sector around Karpaty, but the Ultima sector to spinward has "always been a backwater, far from trade routes and main regions of colonization [...] only thinly settled during the First Imperium" (63). The Azaremiid Cluster in the trailing portion of the Suleiman Sector, a "jump-1 accessible group" (678), could well attract settlement; the world of Ascalon (hex 1207) attracted Vilani immigrants under the First Imperium owing to its wealth in industrial materials and the potentially fertile soil of its ocean bottoms, and when the Terrans arrived in Canon Traveller "they found a thriving civilization and a population in the hundreds of millions." (70) Still, it seems likely that without any reasno to expand further to rimward, the Azaremiid Cluster would be the furthest outpost of Vilani civilization in this direction--the Chinese Arm arcs well away from Azaremiid, and Pentapod space might be near Karpaty, but not close enough to the forward elements of the Ziru Sirka to necessarily attract notice. 2300AD's Colonial Atlas can stand unchallenged as a descriptor of near-Sol space.

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A Quote

From Rick Robinson, on the Futurists yahoogroups list:

"I'm reminded of how someone described the REAL structure of scientific revolutions. A new paradigm comes along. Only a minority of established, middle-aged scientists buy into it, but it becomes the vogue for new people entering the field. The older paradigm retains its supporters, but it gets few recruits. In a few decades, Old Paradigm conferences are full of 70-year-old professors emeritus, and no young new PhD would be caught dead there. When the emeriti die off, the old paradigm dies off with them, and the new one rules."
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