The world is an increasingly unequal and unfair place, economists tell us. Every year, it becomes a little harder to picture what equal opportunity and egalitarianism even look like. As the rich attract capital like Jupiter attracts space debris and the poor fail to make any substantial gains, the gap between them comes to seem to us less surmountable, more of a force of nature than something for which we can even imagine a reasonable counterfactual.
Fortunately, we have literature to help us out with that.
Specifically, we have young adult literature, and its fascination with the way that the world is made, unmade, and remade.
If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s and were of a bookish turn, you either read The Giver or had it read to you, despite the numerous times that moral hawks tried to keep it out of your hands. (Naturally, this only made it more attractive.) The book, and numerous others that followed it, imagined worlds where economic conditions dictate the facts of human life, as of course they have a tendency to do.
* * *
In The Giver, society has "solved" inequality by dramatically reducing personal property and having the state distribute what's left. (This is not the sort of solution that might be recommended by a moderate market skeptic, like Capital in the Twenty-First Century’s author Thomas Piketty. His proposal—raising the income tax or making it more progressive—wouldn’t make for the most exciting subject, especially for young-adult page turners.) Such a solution like The Giver's has a stellar literary pedigree: It harkens back to thinkers like Thomas More, who in 1516 invented the egalitarian no-place ("utopia"), and to the socialist philosophers of the 19th century, especially Friedrich Engels.