Alternatively, how much inequality would there be if all human lives were played out on an economically levelled playing field?
I know it’s never going to happen, not least because economic winners, whether thanks to luck or talent, like to tilt the odds for the next generation by giving their children the benefit of their experience while alive, and their money when they die. In earlier ages they have also constructed ideological systems requiring access to certain roles – being High Priest of the Temple, Caliph, or allowed to vote in elections – to those with some arbitrary genetic inheritance, or born or living within some administrative region.
But there is a more modern ideology out there in favour of equal opportunities, which has had some success in getting measures implemented in public policy.
This chart derives from the work of Branko Milanovic – no fan of inequality, or neo-liberal cheer leader – but the implication is that globally inequality has declined thanks to globalisation, and inequality only appears to increase if seen through a nationalist prism. The big picture, I’d say, is that on balance globalisation has levelled the economic playing field, and the developed world middle classes are now obliged to compete with equally talented people from emerging economies such as India and China. Meanwhile members of elites, individually benefiting most from globalisation, very often buy assets in safer developed economies, and go to live there for at least some of the time, so boosting inequality as perceived in these countries.
That chart was just for the period up to 2008, so what happens now, post-crash, will be interesting. From a simple Marxist point of view, one would expect the development among the middle classes of the developed world of ideologies opposing globalisation.