Department seminar: David J. Samuels, "Why Inequality Does Not Undermine Democracy"

Wed, 30/05/2018 - 14:15 to 15:45

Room 4326, Social Science

David J. Samuels, University of Minnesota


Why Inequality Does Not Undermine Democracy

Conventional wisdom holds that inequality undermines the quality of democracy.

This notion — that the principle of formal political equality cannot survive when a

concentration of economic resources grants power to the few at the expense of the

many — has instinctive appeal. Yet perhaps because it is so widely accepted, no one

has ever questioned the proposition’s theoretical foundations or its empirical veracity.

We contrast the conventional view against a revisionist hypotheses that suggests

that democracy and inequality may in fact be compatible. As in our previous work,

this argument disaggregates the concept of inequality and suggests that that holders

of different forms of wealth may have strong incentives to support democracy. Empirical

analysis finds no support for the conventional wisdom: although inequality

does not deepen democracy, it does not undermine it either. This finding suggests an

uncomfortable paradox for the liberal-egalitarian conventional wisdom.