The world's dominant ideology is breaking. What will replace it?

Rock-star economist Thomas Piketty offers a stark choice for humanity

Thomas Piketty.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

In late 19th-century Sweden, money quite literally bought votes. The country had "adopted an audacious system of proportional representation based on the amount of property each voter owned (or the amount of tax paid)," the French economist Thomas Piketty writes in his new book Capital and Ideology. The voting formula was complicated and had some limits in cities, but still, "in the municipal elections of 1871, there were 54 rural towns in Sweden where one voter cast more than 50 percent of the votes." The economy resulting from this system was naturally horrendously unequal — in 1910 the top tenth of Swedish society owned nearly 90 percent of the country's wealth, and the top one-hundredth owned 60 percent.

But this political system was manifestly unfair and unpopular — part of why hundreds of thousands of Swedes emigrated to the United States during this period — and the Swedish population mobilized against it. An organized mass movement demanded reform and universal suffrage, and when that was fully achieved by 1921 (after several rounds of reforms), the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SDP) came to power on the strength of overwhelming support from workers and farmers who had been largely locked out of the previous political system. The SDP catered to their voters with stiff taxes on the rich, new protections for unions, and a cutting-edge welfare state — none of which interfered with ongoing economic growth. They proceeded to win every subsequent election until 2006.

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