When Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" to begin "A Tale of Two Cities," he compared the years of the French Revolution to his own "present period.” Both were wracked with inequality. But he couldn't have known that 75 years later inequality would cause the Great Depression. Or that 75 years after that, in our own present period, extreme inequality would return for a fourth time, to impact a much greater number of people. He probably didn't know that the cycles of history seem to drag the developed world into desperate times about every 75 years, and then seek relief through war or revolution.
It's that time again.
Three cycles (225 years) ago, in the years before the French Revolution, inequality was at one of its highest points ever. While it's estimated that the top 10% of the population took almost half the income, as they do today, the Gini Coefficient was between .52 and .59, higher than the current U.S. figure of .47. The French Revolution began a surge toward equality that lasted well into the 19th century.
Two cycles ago, in Dickens' day of the 1860s, European inequality was again at a nearly intolerable level. It took the second industrial revolution and the U.S. Civil War to start correcting the economic injustices.
One cycle ago was the Great Depression. The New Deal, World War 2, and the laborious process of war recovery put an end to this third period of extreme inequality.
Now, nearly 75 years after we started World War 2 production, we again feel the agony of a wealth gap expanding, like grotesquely stretched muscle, to intolerable limits. If history repeats itself, we will be part of another revolution of long-subjugated people. Indeed, it has already begun, in Europe and Canada and with the Occupy Movement.
The face of plutocracy has changed, but not the consequences. Just ...