The extent of inequality in society is determined by the distribution of assets, the rates of returns on different assets, and government policy. All of these things are deeply political and reflect the balance of political power in society and the institutions to which this balance gives rise. I illustrate this perspective on the determination of inequality by a case study of the Sudan and argue that in the Middle East and North African countries it suggests a paradox – inequality is much lower than one might anticipate. I make some conjectures about why this might be based on a comparison with the historical development of inequality in Latin America.
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