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.