A Weekly Correction: June 11, 2019

“Across recorded history, the periodic compressions of inequality brought about by mass mobilisation, warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and pandemics have invariably dwarfed any known instances of equalisation by entirely peaceful means.” - Walter Scheidel

What we’re reading:

In “Is Poverty Necessary,” author Marilynne Robinson discusses the subjects of poverty, inequality, classical economic theory, automation and democracy. Starting with her research into the Sellafield nuclear plant, Robinson outlines how she first became propelled into her decade-long inquiry into questions of poverty. Throughout the article, Robinson invites readers to reflect upon why wages, despite an increase in productive power, tend to a minimum which can barely allow one to subsist? Among her various inquiries and insights responding to this question, one of her most profound relates to the question of wealth; “I concluded from my reading of classical economics that the creation of poverty is as fully intentional as the creation of wealth … wealth is a collective creation and a collective inheritance.” This article merits tremendous praise and incites deep reflection, making it a must-read for this week.  

This week we’re reading an essay from journalist Richard Cooke on the origins of the drug epidemic in Appalachia. Concentrating on West Virginia, Cooke details how the region’s economic history coincided with both other exogenous and endogenous forces to produce the most pervasive drug epidemic in modern American history.

In “Five Lessons From History,” author and columnist Morgan Housel gives readers what he sees as the five most significant lessons from history, starting with an example from the Great Depression and World War II before continuing to discuss the Financial Crisis of 2008. In a remark that seems perhaps most poignant, he writes: “the most important lessons from history are things that are so fundamental to the behaviours of so many people that they’re likely to apply to you and situations you’ll face in your own lifetime.’.  

What we’re watching :

This week we’re watching Risk, a 2017 documentary written and directed by Laura Poitras about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Risk can be streamed online on Netflix, and a full length interview with Poitras can be found here.

What we’re listening to :

This week we’re listening to a podcast episode exploring the history of economic inequality, in which co-hosts Keith Pluymers and Patrick Wyman discuss the book The Great Leveller: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century by historian Walter Scheidel. We invite readers to check out other episodes from History Matters, a podcast which provides an in-depth exploration of current events and issues through the lens of the past.

This podcast episode seeks to understand the origins of the American Middle Class through a reading of Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era and discussion with its author, Jennifer Goloboy. Among other subjects, her work discusses: merchants in early America and the work they performed; how people defined the “middle class”; women as merchants in South Carolina at this time; the colonial economy of Charleston; the African Slave Trade and South Carolina; and slavery and its impact on the early American middle class. You can read an excerpt from Goloboy’s work here.