Collecting examples to show that “another world is possible.” One way is to show how much things have changed in history, especially in unexpected ways. In this interview, Thomas Piketty gives an example from his latest book, Capital and Ideology of how political and economic inequality in Sweden has changed dramatically since the turn of the 20th century.
Inequality is a political construction, not the product of “natural” forces of the economy or technology. Every society needs to tell itself a plausible story to show why inequalities are acceptable, to justify the organization of social groups, and to explain the nature of property, borders, the tax system, and education. Revisiting this story allows us to see our current ideologies from a different perspective. We often have the impression that inequalities from the past were necessarily unfair and despotic and that those of the present are necessarily meritocratic, dynamic, open. I do not believe a word of it. Macron’s “leaders in the rope line,” the job creators of Trump, the glorification of fortune whatever its number of zeros: all this speech is as religious in its way as traditional and explicitly religious justifications for inequality
History shows that it is impossible to predict the evolution of regimes of inequality. Take Sweden: we sometimes like to say that the Swedish social model feeds on a very old culture, going back to the Vikings. In fact, Sweden was for a long time an extremely unequal country. The census system until 1911 stipulated that the owners of the biggest fortunes could have up to one hundred votes per person! Political mobilizations have transformed the country. If someone had predicted in 1910 that Sweden would become a social democratic country, nobody would have taken it seriously. That’s why I do not believe that the current system is indestructible or cannot be transformed.
I tried to find a source to corroborate this. I found this article in Past & Present, which I believe is a well-respected academic journal of history.
The Swedish election system was even more unequal on the local level. In the municipalities, established in 1862, a minimum level of income or wealth was necessary for the right to vote, and among those with the right to vote, the number of votes was distributed according to their income and/or wealth. In urban municipalities, an individual (which could also be a company) could control up to one hundred votes or 2 per cent of the total votes (5 per cent before 1869); in rural municipalities, there was no such limit. This infamously led to several municipalities being ruled by a ‘dictator’ in the sense that one single individual controlled more than half of the votes. In 1871 this was the case in 54 municipalities, while in 414 localities, more than a quarter of the votes were controlled by a single individual. In the 1880s, the cousin of the prime minister Count Arvid Posse was one of the local ‘dictators’, due to the value of his family estate.34 As Mellquist put it, all countries in Europe restricted the franchise of the poor, but none were as extreme as the Swedish system.