Inequality in nature and society

Marten Scheffer, Bas van Bavel, Ingrid A. van de Leemput, Egbert H. van Nes, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Dec 25, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Something to think about for the holidays. The authors identify "striking similarities between patterns of inequality between species abundances in nature and wealth in society." Then, in a kicker, they "demonstrate that in the absence of equalizing forces, such large inequality will arise from chance alone." The only way to respond to this is through some sort of regulation; in the forest, this might occur through natural factors, but in society, unless there is some sort of regulation, the inevitable result is massive inequality. The authors note, "this does not imply that wealth inequality is 'natural.' Indeed, in nature, the amount of resources held by individuals (e.g., territory size) is typically quite equal within a species." It's just that as society grows it becomes more difficult to scale regulations. And lest you think there's no real problem, note that "Excessive concentration of wealth is widely thought to hamper economic growth, concentrate power in the hands of a small elite, and increase the chance of social unrest and political instability."

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