Noyce Conference Room
  US Mountain Time
Sam Bowles

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Abstract: Among hunter-gatherers and farmers in Neolithic western Eurasia (11,700 to 5,300 years ago) elevated levels of wealth inequality occurred but were ephemeral and rare compared to the substantial enduring inequalities of the past five millennia.  Here, based on joint work with Mattia Fochesato, Amy Bogaard, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder and others, we seek to understand not the de novo “creation of inequality” but instead the processes by which substantial wealth differences could persist over long periods and why this occurred only at the end of the Neolithic, at least four millennia after the agricultural revolution. Archaeological and anthropological evidence suggests that a culture of aggressive egalitarianism may have thwarted the emergence of enduring wealth inequality until the Late Neolithic when new farming technologies raised the value of material wealth relative to labor and a concentration of elite power in early proto-states (and eventually the exploitation of enslaved labor) provided the political and economic conditions for heightened wealth inequalities to endure. This account provides the basis for conjectures about the future of inequality in a knowledge-based economy.

Link to background paper


Sam BowlesSam BowlesProfessor at SFI
SFI Host: 
Jen Dunne

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