Towards an explanation of inequality in premodern societies: the role of colonies, urbanization, and high population density

Branko Milanovic
Published Online:
28 Dec 2017
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 71 Issue 4

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Abstract Using a newly expanded set of 41 social tables from premodern societies, this article tries to identify the factors associated with the level of inequality and the inequality extraction ratio (how close to the maximum inequality the elites have pushed actual inequality). Strong evidence is found to show that elites in colonies were more extractive, and that more densely populated and less urbanized countries exhibited lower extraction ratios. Several possibilities are proposed, linking high population density to low inequality and to low elite extraction.

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