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The Sun Also Sets

Next Thursday, the 18th of September, Scots will go to the polls to decide whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Recent opinion polls have suggested the race is neck and neck, with as little as one or two percentage points separating the two camps.

Whether Scotland ultimately opts to break from the Westminster orbit, or is recast as part of a new federal constellation, it will be the last act in a century-long tale of imperial decline. That story began with Irish independence in 1922, and culminated, most recently, with the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

Seen in this context, Scotland’s departure would not be very significant, either in population or area. Yet Scots were prominent among Britain’s explorers, traders, and colonial administrators; they are the people who, more than any other, worked to build ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’. In leaving, they would be the last to turn out the lights.

In recent months, Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has reignited debate over inequality and the 1 per cent.

One of Piketty’s key arguments is that wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. But in which societies has this gone furthest? To answer this we made a simple “oligarchy index” – the share of national wealth that is owned, not by the top 1%, but rather, by the top 0.0001%. Because that is 1 in every 10 million, that means the 31 richest Americans, 125 richest Indians, or 6 richest French*.

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