The very contemporary medieval novels of Welsh author Ken Follett transport readers to a time when the rich had everything — and the poor didn’t even own themselves.
These stories, set in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, provide some consolation to today’s readers, who are now surrounded by comforts, freedoms and guarantees.
Poverty was the norm back then. As Follett himself says, “the richest of princes did not live as well as, say, a prisoner in a modern jail.”
Poverty and inequality are not the same thing, but they reinforce each other. In the poverty-stricken Middle Ages, the inequality was terrible. Between the dispossessed common people and the princes, feudal lords and powerful members of the clergy there was a social and economic vacuum that took decades to fill.
Opulence is the overarching parameter of success in 21st century society. But the problem is that all around the world, the rich are getting richer and richer while the armies of poor are pulling out of poverty very slowly, and are never far from the edge.
In India, which is home to 1.2 billion people, the number of billionaires rose tenfold in the last decade. In 2003 they owned 1.8 percent of the national wealth, compared to 26 percent in 2008, according to the international development organisation Oxfam.
Meanwhile, progress in reducing extreme poverty has been too slow: there were 429 million indigents in 1981 and 400 million in 2010, the World Bank reports.
Inequality is increasing across the globe, warn institutions as representative of the neoliberal, free market deregulation mindset as the International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum.
According to the Credit Suisse bank, 10 percent of the world population holds 86 percent of the wealth, while the poorest 70 percent (over three billion people) holds just three percent.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks report, based on a survey of global elites, stresses income disparity as one of the principal emerging risks.