Boris misunderstood Pareto

During his Tory Party conference speech, Boris Johnson said that he remembers something about Wilfredo Pareto, in the “cobwedded attic of (his) memories”. In his mind, Pareto was all about  levelling up – that you can improve the lot of some of society without anyone else losing out. But Pareto is most famous for the 80:20 rule – at the time he observed that 80 percent of land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. It’d be worse than that today. For example, in England half of all land is owned by less than one percent of the population. So, can you really expect to be able to improve the wealth of everyone? If the poor suddenly get rich, won’t they demand the swathes of land that is the domain of the uber-wealthy? Plus, doesn’t climate change place a ceiling on growth that puts paid to Jonson’s ambitions. Phil Dobbie talks to Prof Steve Keen, and asks whether levelling up is a vain hope, and whether Pareto ever argued the case in the first place.

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