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Harvard Book Store welcomes BRANKO MILANOVIC—Senior Scholar at the City University of New York and Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science—for a discussion of his new book Visions of Inequality: From the French Revolution to the End of the Cold War. He will be joined in conversation by RISHABH KUMAR—assistant professor of economics at The University of Massachusetts Boston.
This event is part of University Press Week 2023, which this year celebrates the many ways that university presses help authors to Speak UP and share ideas that shape conversations around the world. Harvard Book Store is proud to partner with Harvard University Press and other university presses to amplify voices like Milanovic this week and year round.
About Visions of Inequality
“How do you see income distribution in your time, and how and why do you expect it to change?” That is the question Branko Milanovic imagines posing to six of history’s most influential economists: François Quesnay, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Vilfredo Pareto, and Simon Kuznets. Probing their works in the context of their lives, he charts the evolution of thinking about inequality, showing just how much views have varied among ages and societies. Indeed, Milanovic argues, we cannot speak of “inequality” as a general concept: any analysis of it is inextricably linked to a particular time and place.
Visions of Inequality takes us from Quesnay and the physiocrats, for whom social classes were prescribed by law, through the classic nineteenth-century treatises of Smith, Ricardo, and Marx, who saw class as a purely economic category driven by means of production. It shows how Pareto reconceived class as a matter of elites versus the rest of the population, while Kuznets saw inequality arising from the urban-rural divide. And it explains why inequality studies were eclipsed during the Cold War, before their remarkable resurgence as a central preoccupation in economics today.
Meticulously extracting each author’s view of income distribution from their often voluminous writings, Milanovic offers an invaluable genealogy of the discourse surrounding inequality. These intellectual portraits are infused not only with a deep understanding of economic theory but also with psychological nuance, reconstructing each thinker’s outlook given what was unknowable to them within their historical contexts and methodologies.
Praise for Visions of Inequality
“Fascinating and often surprising, offering new insight into iconic figures like Smith and Marx and unexpected perspectives on their work. Branko Milanovic shows that the writings of centuries past have much to teach us about inequality, especially about class and power. A truly important book.” —Angus Deaton, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences
“What do we talk about when we talk about economic inequality? To those who came of age after the 2008 financial crisis and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century—an era marked by a widening fracture between rich and poor, especially within Western nations—the question might seem obvious. But as Branko Milanovic shows in his indispensable chronicle of the concept, we underestimate just how young, limited, and fraught our current understanding of inequality is—and how diverse its range of forebears. Researched with forensic thoroughness, and hardly shy about its political implications, Visions of Inequality presents a rare and rewarding combination of economic and conceptual history.” —Anton Jäger, Catholic University of Leuven
“A fascinating journey across the history of economic thought through the lens of inequality. Milanovic’s erudite and thought-provoking exploration casts new light both on the analysis of income concentration and on the ideological travails of economics as a discipline.” —Ingrid Bleynat, King’s College London
“Imagine being able to ask Smith, Marx, and Pareto round for dinner and a chat about how each of them sees inequality. In effect, that’s what Branko Milanovic does in this new book. As he shows, economists’ interest in the subject is by no means a new phenomenon—but what counts, and who counts, in any analysis of inequality has varied dramatically over time. Recognizing this fact should make us reflect on how our own contemporary assays of inequality are more limited than we think. Taking us on an eye-opening tour from Quesnay to Kuznets, Milanovic shows us how inequality and capitalism have always intertwined.” —Mark Blyth, Brown University
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