22 January 2018

Historian Bas van Bavel investigates the wealth gap.

Worldwide inequality is growing: is there a solution?

The gap between the poor and the rich is growing. Oxfam Novib states this in a report on wealth and poverty. The report refers to the current economic system. In this system, big corporations and billionaires allegedly profit from work for low wages. According to the NGO, the poorest half of the world did not improve in terms of wealth in 2017. At the same time, 82 % of all the earned money went to 1 % of the world population.


Historian Bas van Bavel has been investigating this for quite some time already. In November, he showed together with ecologists that inequality is almost a law of nature. Both in nature and in human society, the system is causing inequality. However, unlike in nature, our society has no natural brake for the dominant group.

Video on the research by Bas van Bavel and the 'laws of nature' that cause inequality.

Last year, Oxfam Novib and other organisations sounded the alarm as well. Back then, Van Bavel predicted that Oxfam Novib will have to protest for a long time: “Countries are competing with each other to attract capital.” According to the professor, globalisation enables wealth to easily escape from a country.


Van Bavel emphasizes that political choices play a key role. “How progressive the tax system is, what opportunities education offers - that really matters a lot. With this (editor's note: the World Inequality Report of December 2017), these economists show that the growing inequality is not inevitable. We can change this, even though it will be exceptionally difficult.”

Historicus prof. dr. Bas van Bavel.
Professor Dr Bas van Bavel, Professor of Transitions of Economy and Society. Photo by Ed van Rijswijk.

In nature, there is the kill-the-winner principle. This means that natural enemies, such as disease, hit the dominant species more often than average. In societies, only disasters can briefly fill this role. Van Bavel: “Now, we should form a new counterbalance on a global level. This is even crucial, as inequality is an important cause of social and political tensions and economical stagnation.”

Purposive taxes are a means that can offer structural counterbalance against inequality. “But realising such a global form of governance is an enormous challenge,” Van Bavel states.