Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, 2014, Excerpts
Inequality on the eve of WWI was as great as it had ever been. The two world wars played a central role in reducing inequalities in the twentieth century. It was the chaos of war, with its attendant economic and political shocks, that reduced inequality in the twentieth century. There was no gradual, consensual, conflict free evolution toward greater equality. In the twentieth century it was war, and not harmonious democratic or economic rationality, that erased the past and enabled society begin anew with a clean state.
The reduction of inequality that took place between 1910 and 1950 was above all a consequence of war and of policies adopted to cope with the shocks of war. A great wave of enthusiasm swept over Europe in the period 1945-1975. People felt that inequality and class society had been relegated to the past.
One major lesson is clear: it was the wars of the twentieth century that wiped away and transformed the structure of inequality. Today, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, inequalities in wealth that had supposedly disappeared are close to regaining or even surpassing their historical highs. The new global economy has brought immense inequities. Can we imagine a twenty-first century in which capitalism will be transcended in a more peaceful and more lasting way, or must we simply await the next crisis or the next war?