By Nick Cassella – After coming to power in the late 17th century, Peter the Great of Russia decided to escape the confines of the Kremlin and travel incognito across Europe for a variety of diplomatic and personal reasons.
During his European odyssey, Peter visited Holland and was amazed at the commercial success of the small nation.
Trade was clearly a factor, but so too was religious toleration. Holland at the time was what Mathis calls an “intellectual and artistic clearinghouse” where clever thinkers, who let their pen or mouth wander too far, escaped repressive regimes.
In this land of inquisitive minds, Dutch religious tolerance was born. While this principle was not encoded in law, people would “look the other way” so that Calvinists, Catholics, and others could live together peacefully and productively.
Peter began to realize that Dutch commercial prosperity largely derived from its tolerant nature. He left Europe “intrigued by the atmosphere of religious toleration” and swore to mitigate the intolerance and rigidity of the Russian Orthodox Church on his return home.
The levels of wealth inequality across the world and in nations is, to put it lightly, suboptimally distributed. The United States offers a sterling example. Brookings senior fellow, Richard Reeves, looked at Congressional Budget Office data and found the top 20 percent “saw a $4 trillion increase in pretax income in the years between 1979 and 2013” while “the combined rise for the bottom 80 percent…was just over $3 trillion.”
The only way to defend wealth distortion like this is to claim a well-functioning society necessitates great inequality. Just like the religious intolerance of yore, today’s exclusive brand of economics is clearly not the best way to organize a group of people, but instead represents the best way for a few individuals to maintain power and wealth. more>