A sweeping and original history of how economists across two centuries have thought about inequality, told through portraits of six key figures.
“How do you see income distribution in your time, and how and why do you expect it to change?” That is the question Branko Milanovic imagines posing to six of history's most influential economists: François Quesnay, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Vilfredo Pareto, and Simon Kuznets. Probing their works in the context of their lives, he charts the evolution of thinking about inequality, showing just how much views have varied among ages and societies. Indeed, Milanovic argues, we cannot speak of “inequality” as a general concept: any analysis of it is inextricably linked to a particular time and place.
Visions of Inequality takes us from Quesnay and the physiocrats, for whom social classes were prescribed by law, through the classic nineteenth-century treatises of Smith, Ricardo, and Marx, who saw class as a purely economic category driven by means of production. It shows how Pareto reconceived class as a matter of elites versus the rest of the population, while Kuznets saw inequality arising from the urban-rural divide. And it explains why inequality studies were eclipsed during the Cold War, before their remarkable resurgence as a central preoccupation in economics today.
Meticulously extracting each author’s view of income distribution from their often voluminous writings, Milanovic offers an invaluable genealogy of the discourse surrounding inequality. These intellectual portraits are infused not only with a deep understanding of economic theory but also with psychological nuance, reconstructing each thinker’s outlook given what was unknowable to them within their historical contexts and methodologies.
A timely book that brings the weight of the past to bear on one of the most pressing issues of our time…Milanovic is a clear and direct writer, unafraid of making strong judgements and with an idiosyncratic eye for detail. That makes for original, and sometimes amusingly wry, revelations.
Inequality is back, as a political topic and as a focus of study. In this fascinating book, Milanovic, one of the world’s most influential scholars of inequality, examines what leading economists of the past have had to say on this issue.
A history of the changing ways economists have broached the subject [of inequality] since the French Revolution…[Milanovic] describes how Western economists were in thrall to an unholy combination of extremely simplistic assumptions and extremely complex mathematical models.
For anybody interested in inequality—and we all should be—anything by Milanovic is an essential read…This book is a great scene setter for the modern debate, not least in illustrating the link between ideas of inequality and the times in which ideas are formed.
An in-depth contextual analysis of how economic minds from Adam Smith to Karl Marx have shaped our understanding of class, income and wealth…This is a vital reference for the economic and philosophical theories underpinning our understanding of inequality today.
A captivating journey through the time of ideas, with an impact on current events.
A noted economist examines the thinking of six of his predecessors on how income is distributed and the conditions that favor or hinder the accumulation of wealth.
[A] sweeping survey of more than 200 years of philosophical thought about inequality.
Fascinating and often surprising, offering new insight into iconic figures like Smith and Marx and unexpected perspectives on their work. Branko Milanovic shows that the writings of centuries past have much to teach us about inequality, especially about class and power. A truly important book.
What do we talk about when we talk about economic inequality? To those who came of age after the 2008 financial crisis and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century—an era marked by a widening fracture between rich and poor, especially within Western nations—the question might seem obvious. But as Branko Milanovic shows in his indispensable chronicle of the concept, we underestimate just how young, limited, and fraught our current understanding of inequality is—and how diverse its range of forebears. Researched with forensic thoroughness, and hardly shy about its political implications, Visions of Inequality presents a rare and rewarding combination of economic and conceptual history.
A fascinating journey across the history of economic thought through the lens of inequality. Milanovic’s erudite and thought-provoking exploration casts new light both on the analysis of income concentration and on the ideological travails of economics as a discipline.
Imagine being able to ask Smith, Marx, and Pareto round for dinner and a chat about how each of them sees inequality. In effect, that’s what Branko Milanovic does in this new book. As he shows, economists’ interest in the subject is by no means a new phenomenon—but what counts, and who counts, in any analysis of inequality has varied dramatically over time. Recognizing this fact should make us reflect on how our own contemporary assays of inequality are more limited than we think. Taking us on an eye-opening tour from Quesnay to Kuznets, Milanovic shows us how inequality and capitalism have always intertwined.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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