The New History of Old Inequality*

I don’t read much history but I thought this article by Trevor Jackson was exceptional, and offered a genuinely different view to almost all the health and economics articles dealing with inequalities. The conclusion is eye-opening – and bleak:

The best analogies for the contemporary crisis of inequality are not found in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time of militant unions and economic growth that preceded an eventual phase of greater equality, but that does not mean there is nothing to be learned from studying the long-term dynamics of inequality.

Likewise, there is an optimism in thinking that inequality moves in waves, and that peaks like ours will be followed by a pendulum that swings back the other way towards equality. That optimism cannot survive contact with the new history of inequality, and especially the evidence that reductions of inequality are profoundly rare aberrations in the general trend of steady social polarization.

Instead, better analogies are to be found in the early modern period, those times of stagnation and decline, of increasing extraction and the destructive politics of elite wealth defence. Ours may be not a Second Gilded Age, but a New Old Regime.

Well worth a read.


Jackson, T. (2023). The New History of Old Inequality*. Past & Present, 259(1), 262–289.