Inequality – The Long View

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This post points to several recent books on historic global inequality. “A Genetic History” by Carles Lalueza-Fox and “The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality” by Oded Galor and “The Asset Economy and the End of Social Mobility” by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings. But first a nod to the Dawn of Everything – A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow, already covered in a previous post.

The following quote is a reminder that the conceptuality of inequality represents the mainstream’s mode of avoiding any analysis of power. Instead one prefers to analyse the economy as a de-contextualised abstraction in a neutralising and naturalising fashion. As Graeber&Wengrow put it: “The term ‘ inequality ’ is a way of framing social problems appropriate to an age of technocratic reformers , who assume from the outset that no real vision of social transformation is even on the table.”

The political implications of the Hobbesian model need little elaboration . It is a foundational assumption of our economic system that humans are at base somewhat nasty and selfish creatures , basing their decisions on cynical , egoistic calculation rather than altruism or co – operation ; in which case , the best we can hope for are more sophisticated internal and external controls on our supposedly innate drive towards accumulation and self – aggrandizement . Rousseau’s story about how humankind descended into inequality from an original state of egalitarian innocence seems more optimistic ( at least there was somewhere better to fall from ) , but nowadays it’s mostly deployed to convince us that while the system we live under might be unjust , the most we can realistically aim for is a bit of modest tinkering . The term ‘ inequality ’ is itself very telling in this regard . …

Something of a consensus has emerged among intellectuals and even , to some degree , the political classes that levels of social inequality have got out of hand , and that most of the world’s problems result , in one way or another , from an ever – widening gulf between the haves and the have – nots . …     The term ‘ inequality ’ is a way of framing social problems appropriate to an age of technocratic reformers , who assume from the outset that no real vision of social transformation is even on the table . …

Debating inequality allows one to tinker with the numbers , argue about Gini coefficients and thresholds of dysfunction , readjust tax regimes or social welfare mechanisms , even shock the public with figures showing just how bad things have become ( ‘ Can you imagine ? The richest 1 per cent of the world’s population own 44 per cent of the world’s wealth ! ’ ) – but it also allows one to do all this without addressing any of the factors that people actually object to about such as ‘ unequal ’ social arrangements : for instance , that some manage to turn their wealth into power over others ; or that other people end up being told their needs are not important , and their lives have no intrinsic worth . …   The ultimate effect of all these stories about an original state of innocence and equality , like the use of the term ‘ inequality ’ itself , is to make wistful pessimism about the human condition seem like common sense. …

D Graeber, D Wengrow, Dawn of Everything  2021 Ch1 Farewell to Humanity’s Childhood: Or, why this is not a book about the origins of inequality

Oded-Galor-reviews & updtaes

Inequality: A Genetic History by Carles Lalueza-Fox

Inequality: A Genetic History

Summary: How genomics reveals deep histories of inequality, going back many thousands of years.

Inequality is an urgent global concern, with pundits, politicians, academics, and best-selling books all taking up its causes and consequences. In Inequality, Carles Lalueza-Fox offers an entirely new perspective on the subject, examining the genetic marks left by inequality on humans throughout history. Lalueza-Fox describes genetic studies, made possible by novel DNA sequencing technologies, that reveal layers of inequality in past societies, manifested in patterns of migration, social structures, and funerary practices. Through their DNA, ancient skeletons have much to tell us, yielding anonymous stories of inequality, bias, and suffering.

Lalueza-Fox, a leader in paleogenomics, offers the deep history of inequality. He explores the ancestral shifts associated with migration and describes the gender bias unearthed in these migrations—the brutal sexual asymmetries, for example, between male European explorers and the women of Latin America that are revealed by DNA analysis. He considers social structures, and the evidence that high social standing was inherited—the ancient world was not a meritocracy. He untangles social and genetic factors to consider whether wealth is an advantage in reproduction, showing why we are more likely to be descended from a king than a peasant. And he explores the effects of ancient inequality on the human gene pool. Marshaling a range of evidence, Lalueza-Fox shows that understanding past inequalities is key to understanding present ones.

reviews amazon sample goodreads

“In this important and disturbing book, Lalueza-Fox shows that while our genes may not cause social, economic, and political inequality, they carry the evidence of millennia of human inequality and dominance: men over women, powerful over weak, technologically advanced over traditional.”

Patrick J. Geary Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study

youtube 3-2022 Carles Lalueza-Fox discusses “Inequality: A Genetic History” with David Reich 2-2022 Two Darwin Day lectures discuss the genetic history of inequality and coexistence with coronavirus

The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality by Oded Galor

A radically uplifting account of our species’ progress, from one of the world’s pre-eminent thinkers – with breakthrough insights into the power of diversity and our capacity to tackle climate change.

What are the keys to human progress? Why are living standards so unequal around the world? How might all humans thrive and survive? In The Journey of Humanity, Oded Galor offers a revelatory explanation of how humanity became, only very recently, the unique species to have escaped a life of subsistence poverty, enjoying previously unthinkable wealth and longevity. He reveals why this process has been so unequal around the world, resulting in the great disparities between nations that exist today. He shows why so many of our efforts to improve lives have failed and how they might succeed.

‘Completely brilliant and utterly original … a book for our epoch’ Jon Snow, former presenter Channel 4 News

‘Astounding in scope and insight … provides the keys to the betterment of our species’ Nouriel Roubini, author of Crisis Economics

‘A masterful sweep through the human odyssey … if you liked Sapiens, you’ll love this’ Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins

‘An engaging and optimistic answer to anyone who thinks that poverty and inequality will always be with us’ Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules – For Now

‘Breathtakingly ambitious’ Robert Solow, Nobel Laureate in Economics

amazonreview Powerful and persuasive on economic growth and distribution – by Miles Saltiel

…”…Galor’s thesis is persuasive for its emphasis on individual decisions and conduct which build social capital and soft skills; for its lack of sentiment towards agriculture or industry; and for the weakly implied moral thrust to which I turn below. The problem for some readers will be that by current standards Galor is a bit old school, if not outright reactionary. He dwells upon the Puritan ethic and the consequence of the family setting. He is largely silent on class conflict, indeed revisionist about industrialists, child labour and education. If you worry about global warming, you may feel that Galor’s assurances – that carbon footprints per capita fall as societies become more educated – are insufficient. Although Galor touches on colonialism and the slave trade, he presents them as incidents in a broader sweep. He lauds the US as a model of Goldilocks diversity. Finally, his general thrust may serve as a stalking horse for Social Darwinism. All of this is out of fashion – in the case of Social Darwinism disreputable – but nonetheless supported by his data. I warm to Galor’s view that societies and individuals master their fates with the decisions they make; that they do best for themselves and their successors, if they follow common-sense, realism and reason (not the same things!)…”…

reviews updates Oded Galor history inequality 2-5-2022 The Journey of Humanity review – ambitious bid to explain society’s economic development – Oded Galor’s attempt to unify economic theory is impressive and insightful, even as it overreaches – by Will Hutton

It is the social scientist’s dream: to outdo Adam Smith, Max Weber and Karl Marx and come up with a unifying theory of why society has developed as it has, where it is going next and how its wrongs can be righted. At times, reading Oded Galor’s upbeat book I thought he had cracked it, taken aback by his imagination and verve. For example, it is obvious once pointed out that agricultural economies reliant on the plough necessarily diminish women’s role in wider economic and social life because ploughs need male muscle, which leads to women taking over household duties rather than sharing duties in fields where soil is easier to work. What Galor shows is that this gendered division of labour persists over generations, even in countries to which plough-using peoples migrate. He is nothing if not original. 12-5-2022 Journey of Humanity by Oded Galor review – inequality explained? – An study of the factors behind economic growth attempts to reveal the ‘great cogs’ that drive development – Steven Poole

…”…It is tempting for a “unified theory” of the “journey of humanity” to try to provide the key to all mythologies, and the book becomes more speculative and dubious, suggesting that the economic performance of entire modern societies can be explained by a kind of cultural memory of their ancestors’ interactions with one kind of crop or animal versus another. Galor also proposes that languages with politeness distinctions (tu and vous in French or du and Sie in German) have thereby enshrined more rigid hierarchies, and so harmed individual business enterprise. This reminded me pleasantly of the remark attributed to George W Bush: “The problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur.” The book’s desire to uncover the “great cogs” of history devolves into a kind of impersonal conspiracy thinking.

The penultimate chapter, more dangerously, claims to explain the differences in economic development in the modern world through “population diversity”, including genetic and cultural diversity. Galor argues that ethnic diversity has had conflicting effects: on the one hand it “has diminished interpersonal trust, eroded social cohesion, increased the incidence of civil conflicts, and introduced inefficiencies in the provision of public goods”. On the other hand it has “fostered economic development by widening the spectrum of individual traits, such as skills and approaches to problem-solving”. If this is so, then perhaps, a bean counter might dream, there is an amount of diversity that is just right. Galor finds that there is just such a “sweet spot”, and it can be found in a Goldilocks zone – neither too near nor too far, in terms of migratory distance, from our ancestors’ first journey out of Africa – where the “diversity” of the population is allegedly ideal for creating an economy such as the Netherlands’ or Malaysia’s rather than Ethiopia’s or Bolivia’s.

Here we encounter the limitations inherent in the publishing genre of “successful thinker lays out his pet theory as if it were the uncontroversial truth”. The original version of this argument appeared in a 2013 paper co-written with Quamrul Ashraf (“The ‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development”), and attracted a highly critical public response from a number of biologists and anthropologists. “The argument is fundamentally flawed by assuming that there is a causal relationship between genetic diversity and complex behaviors such as innovation and distrust,” they observed; indeed, such “haphazard methods and erroneous assumptions of statistical independence could equally find a genetic cause for the use of chopsticks”. They warned, too: “The suggestion that an ideal level of genetic variation could foster economic growth and could even be engineered has the potential to be misused with frightening consequences to justify indefensible practices such as ethnic cleansing or genocide.” Galor responded at the time: “The entire criticism is based on a gross misinterpretation of our work and, in some respects, a superficial understanding of the empirical techniques employed.”

He ends his recapitulation of the same argument here by asserting that “geographical characteristics and population diversity” are “predominantly the deepest factors behind global inequalities”, which sounds rather like we can’t do anything about them. Happily, at least, he does suggest that a country such as Ethiopia, which in his view is too diverse, might be helped by “policies that enabled diverse societies to achieve greater social cohesion”. Meanwhile, Bolivia, which is allegedly too homogeneous, could achieve better economic growth by being more diverse and so benefiting from more “intellectual cross-pollination”. And so, though it has often seemed as if we can do little about his hidden “great cogs” and “fundamental triggers”, it appears cheeringly in the end that politics and ideas might at least sometimes trump their effects on the story of how we got here and where we might go next.”

youtube 3-2022 Oded Galor: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality – Commonwealth Club of California

Join us to discuss with economist Oded Galor his grand unifying theory to explain human flourishing and economic inequality. In a captivating journey from the dawn of human existence to the present, Galor offers an intriguing solution to two of humanity’s great mysteries. Why are humans the only species to have escaped (quite recently) the subsistence trap, allowing us to enjoy a standard of living that vastly exceeds all others? And why have we progressed so unequally around the world, resulting in the great disparities between nations that exist today? Immense in scope and packed with interesting connections, Galor explains how technology, population size, and adaptation led to a stunning “phase change” in human history a mere 200 years ago. But by tracing that same journey back in time and peeling away the layers of influence—colonialism, political institutions, societal structure, culture—he also arrives at an explanation of inequality’s ultimate cause: those ancestral populations that enjoyed fruitful geographical characteristics and rich diversity were set on the path to prosperity, while those that lacked it were disadvantaged in ways still influential today. As we face ecological crises across the globe, Galor concludes that gender equality, investment in education, and balancing diversity with social cohesion are the keys not only to our species’ thriving, but to its survival.

youtube ReCap Webinar: Oded Galor on The Journey of Humanity

The Asset Economy by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings

Rising inequality is the defining feature of our age. With the lion’s share of wealth growth going to the top, for a growing percentage of society a middle-class existence is out of reach. What exactly are the economic shifts that have driven the social transformations taking place in Anglo-capitalist societies?

In this timely book, Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings argue that the rise of the asset economy has produced a new logic of inequality. Several decades of property inflation have seen asset ownership overshadow employment as a determinant of class position. Exploring the impact of generational dynamics in this new class landscape, the book advances an original perspective on a range of phenomena that are widely debated but poorly understood – including the growth of wealth inequalities and precarity, the dynamics of urban property inflation, changes in fiscal and monetary policy and the predicament of the “millennial” generation. Despite widespread awareness of the harmful effects of Quantitative Easing and similar asset-supporting measures, we appear to have entered an era of policy “lock-in” that is responsible for a growing disconnect between popular expectations and institutional priorities. The resulting polarization underlies many of the volatile dynamics and rapidly shifting alliances that dominate today’s headlines.

“Class in the 21st century: Asset inflation and the new logic of inequality” article pdf here

reviews goodreads amazon 3-2021 Book Review: The Asset Economy by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings 14-2-2022 On Natural Wine, Inherited Money, and the Delusions of the “Future-Rich Millennial”- Lauren Carroll Harris on “The Asset Economy and the End of Social Mobility” by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings

As I approached my mid-thirties, I noticed that a particular sliver of my contemporaries had stopped pretending to be broke, or poor, and started brazenly trying to join the professional managerial class. I had stuck around in privileged industries—media, the arts—for long enough to see some emergent lines of division furrow deeper, and to glimpse the complicated inner lives of the wealthy and will-be wealthy.

In the clinical, learned language of white collar, six-figure professionals, many of my peers had graduated to sipping natural wine and discussing the woes of influential journalists, writers, gatekeepers, editors, media managers, executives, high-end administrators, government officials, policymakers, political advisers, and public servants.

A few years ago, a colleague had complained that she was the only person in a particular circle who had attended “a public school” (it was, in fact, one of the state’s top-ranked, most prestigious and well-resourced schools). Another friend, who insisted she “grew up in poverty” in “a suburb with migrants” was poached to be an executive at a major transnational media company. These were often the very same media types writing op-eds about the intrinsic and miserable precarity of millennial life.

They had subsidized their way through various internships, contracts and freelance gigs into the ever-shrinking pool of salaried employment via the casual living arrangements of upper middle class youth that signal unearned money: living with their parents well into their twenties; living cheaply or freely in their parents’ spare houses and investment properties; always having people to borrow money from; staying on the family cell phone plan. Wealth and class advantage had provided them with far more catapult power than hard work or the education system ever could.

The Asset Economy presents hard new evidence for a disgusting truth: that wage labor is a scam.
Now, on social media, artists a few years younger than me were posting about the purchase of their “first home”—and neglecting to mention that their parents had supplied them with the down payment for their mortgage. When my peers talked of things like poverty, housing insecurity and family violence, it was with the flat authority and abstraction of a government report or nonprofit pamphlet—it was clear that these were theoretical social issues that happened “over there.” Their hobbies had changed too. Performed poverty was over; they were investing in restaurants, setting up fashion businesses based on “ethical” job creation in Africa, and joining art philanthropy circles.

I noticed another trend: several guilty millennials proudly refusing to accept early inheritances, which seemed to me just as privileged as accepting them. For some, there was a strange melancholy attached to the knowledge of a forthcoming inheritance. They knew, after all, that their windfalls were coming eventually, and that they could afford exorbitant rents in the meantime. I could barely imagine a poor or working class person turning down the chance to buy a heavily subsidized house. On the other side of the class divide, I saw friends without family money struggle to break the endless chain of casual academic contracts and twelve-month leases.

During this time, I was with my sister at an inner city pub, surrounded by her friends who worked at a local art museum. She leaned toward me, looked around and said quietly, “You realize that in this group, everyone’s parents own at least one house? And we’re the only ones whose parents don’t own property?” It felt like a conspiracy dawning in a bad 90s film. In realizing my own naivety, and that our lives were different, I was shattered. A thought hit: were my peers future-rich millennials?*

The pandemic hit and I retreated in order to see better what was going to come next in the world and where I might fit into it. In the long, odd sleep of isolation, I began to consume wild amounts of film, digital art, media and books delivered by mail or stream. I found that my nascent observations were mirrored, almost perfectly, by the analysis set out by three Australian academics in a book that has radically changed my attitude to work and wealth, The Asset Economy: Property Ownership and the New Logic of Inequality (Polity, 2020).

By Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings, The Asset Economy is an academic study of political-economy and sociological analysis that reads like a horror story. At the study’s heart is a question central to many of the cultural and generational battles of the present: Who is more advantaged today? A millennial set to inherit their parents’ four-bedroom property in ten years? Or a renting baby boomer approaching the tail of their retirement funds?

Combining generational and class analysis, the authors bust open the old lie that jobs, education and hard work still provide social mobility. Nor will merit or exceptionalism get you anywhere except a life in the rental market. Rather, only your inheritance and your ability to invest in assets that appreciate faster than wage rises will assure you a sound financial future. Not so disenfranchised, and living far outside the common narrative of hard-knock precarity, the world’s future landlords, multinational business owners, CEOs and media executives—a small but fiscally significant slice of the under-40 demographic—are already benefiting from life-boosting cash infusions from their parents.

The great wealth transfer of around $30 trillion dollars has already begun for geriatric millennials, and will soon spread to the younger slice of the cohort. Banks are already preparing for this demographic-shifting moment. Meanwhile, the contract between the state, capital, and unions has evaporated and incomes have atrophied. If the politics of austerity are anything to go by, the welfare state could be a historically fleeting phenomenon.

In “Toward a Labor Theory of Generation X,” Alissa G. Karl writes that “Gen X didn’t just get gloomy in the 90s. We also got jobs.” Wage labor has declined since then. Finance and speculation and property investment reign, and joining the investor class (and becoming a landlord) is the new path. There’ll be millennials who never get jobs. And let’s face it, jumping from contract to contract in the wake of organized labor’s decline isn’t looking like a great recipe for radicalism. But the less-narrativized story is that the top tier of millennials is about to get seriously rich, and that inequality manifests in a serious and structural manner within the millennial generation.

While the “boomers versus millennials” culture war can lean on cliché and false generalization, The Asset Economy shows that generational analysis matters insomuch as age affects asset ownership and financial status. Millennials are the first to live through an era in which asset ownership matters more than income and job mobility. A key difference between the 1970s—when austerity dawned and boomers began buying houses—and now, is that neoliberal policies began in a setting when property ownership was democratized, and depended on that reality. People could bear those policies because they, or someone in their family, were much more likely to have a house they owned. Housing ownership, as I was learning in real time, is key to this new phase of economic inequality.

“Not only does housing wealth beget housing wealth,” write Adkins et al, “progressively narrowing the pool of those able to enter the housing market, it also increasingly determines one’s future educational opportunities and hence one’s future earning potential and professional status.” We are spiraling. In Australia, where I live, this means that parental contributions to first home loans average “more than $89,000, an increase of nearly 20 percent in the past 12 months. It’s this private access to wealth that I had been witnessing for the past five years among my peers.

What fascinates me is that the authors of The Asset Economy are not talking about what anthropologist Dave Graeber called the 1 percent—the Trumps and the Murdochs, the very, very rich. What about the, say 19 percent of Americans in the upper-class income tier, who will defend their right to be landlords, to increase their unearned wealth through their investments? It’s been long observed, in the UK and US, that house ownership skews a person’s politics toward conservatism.

In Western society, you are what you own. It used to be that the only way to acquire property without labor was to marry; the plots of entire genres of literature were structured around this principle. Now, The Asset Economy presents hard new evidence for a disgusting truth: that wage labor is a scam. It matters, I’ve realized, because the rich really do run the world.

Naturally, new markets have sprung up to service those benefiting from the next wave of intergenerational wealth. …

…In my social circle, I see something beyond an ethical posture: natural wine as an aesthetic marker of millennials aging stylishly into mid life—becoming the cooler 30-somethings who go to the wine regions for weekends away as they grow into the next social scene. Far from the tradition of stuffy, white-linen-tablecloth establishments, the product—and the way that it’s marketed—summons visions of almost-rich kids pioneering a subculture and living in a way that’s connected to the land, but fueled by dad’s share and property money.

The greatest irony of this burgeoning market is that wine was inherently natural until the advent of mass industrialization and chemical agriculture. And yet today, the privilege of natural wine means that nothing at my biggest local liquor store is under $22. Not the most onerous price tag for the consumption of vogue-ish virtue. But which demographic is buying alcohol at premium prices? Who is it that thinks, “that’s a good deal”? Well, those who are fixed on trends, who have a lot of disposable income, and are a particular type of millennial—according to University of Palermo researchers and American, Chinese, UK, Australian and New Zealand trade presses.

Natural wine now stands as a signifier of tasteful, cool, knowledgeable consumerism. It is a delicious, differentiated product in a market of poisonous sludge. Its flavor is often referred to as alive and funky, notwithstanding the fact that alcohol is inherently funky, constituted as it is by fermented fruit sugars. Is the creation of this new, delineated market of on-trend wine not an absurd indication of our disconnect from traditional modes of living with and eating plants? Or should there be a “toxic industrial beverages” section, demarcated in liquor stores?

As the growth limits of free-market economies are approached, the logic of late-stage capitalism dictates that new markets must be identified and aggressively pursued. With natural wine, a win-win situation emerges. The drinkers get the social capital, and the liquor industry gets the actual capital. The natural ethos of the peasant counterculture is commodified by business culture and sold back to cashed-up consumers who are on the brink of losing their youth. Little wonder that the natural wine market will be worth an estimated US$30 billion by 2030. Such is the empty deliciousness of natural wine, the bereftness and arbitrariness of popular culture, and the wide open nature of the emergent ways to make money out of future-rich millennials.*

At this point, I must, in the interests of transparency, make a disclosure along the lines of what critic Amanda Hess calls the “obligatory paragraph.” I have, for all intents and purposes, married a future-rich millennial.

He was born onto the land in a settler-colonial colony. He now manages his family’s regenerative farm. Access to that land shapes his life; he is bound to be an inheritor. By some fluke of character, some mystery of personality, he is not caught up in the contemporary trap, all too common in the everything-is-problematic discourse of the moment, of performing hardship. He is not hell bent on cosplaying disadvantage. He is not bewitched by the self-rationalizing delusion that the privileged are other people, elsewhere. He knows he has won capitalism’s life lottery.

Of course, I’m completely biased, but Sam is an angel of chill and empathy. At first I thought, “maybe he can afford to be”—he’s descended from landowners. But it’s rather unusual for people to admit that their fortunes in life are structural, brought to them not by hard work or talent alone, but by inheritance. Such is the usual denialist psychology of the privileged.

Here’s the new contradiction of my life: my accidental escape from the gig economy and the welfare class has not arrived on account of social justice or political change. Marrying up should not be the sole way to stabilize your life. This is no way to create a fair society. I exist in a cross-class relationship, with all the cultural differences and chasms in worldview that come with it. Sam’s view of life is that it is full of wonder and awe and beauty; you picture your future, and that idealized picture materializes. My view of life is that it is chaos, and you flow with the mercy and whims of it while maintaining a modicum of dignity and self-determination.

Much of my life has been spent living on willpower and adrenaline; periods of sleepless suspension, in unstable work and strange accommodations. Now, in partnering upwards, my Faustian bargain involves some genuine asymmetries. I haven’t chosen, for example, where we live, and I have adopted his way of life. I have to avoid the female trope of being financially dependent on my male spouse. My future is contingent on his fortunes. But living rent-free in my in-laws’ second residence has been transformative, and I’m set to be a sideways beneficiary of the asset economy.

For many, the dominant lens to understand life in this society is identity, which can to an extent be a political category. But what if the question isn’t who are you, but what socioeconomic structures contain who you are? In posing these new questions, the authors of The Asset Economy restage the current generational warfare as class conflict. Our lives result from the historical forces that form us. I think I’m beginning to understand a little more about how this society works.

>inequality, property, class, positioning – updates 2021 Class, Assets and Work in Rentier Capitalism by Brett Christophers

Abstract: ‘Rentier capitalism’ is the term increasingly used to describe economies dominated by rentiers, rents, and rent-generating assets. A growing body of scholarship considers how the ownership of such assets by individuals and households is reshaping patterns of class and inequality and accordingly requires the reconceptualisation of the latter phenomena. The significance of company-owned assets and corporate rents for class, inequality and their conceptualisation has not been considered, however. This article offers an exploratory investigation along these lines, highlighting the importance of employees’ working relationship to company-owned, rent-generating assets for their class position. The article further reflects on how developments in this regard might be approached from the perspective of Marx’s writing on value, labour and class, and the challenges that those developments potentially pose to Marxian concepts.

Keywords: class; assets; work; value; rent; rentier capitalism