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Why Hasn't Democracy Slowed Rising Inequality?

Author

Listed:
  • Adam Bonica
  • Nolan McCarty
  • Keith T. Poole
  • Howard Rosenthal

Abstract

During the past two generations, democratic forms have coexisted with massive increases in economic inequality in the United States and many other advanced democracies. Moreover, these new inequalities have primarily benefited the top 1 percent and even the top .01 percent. These groups seem sufficiently small that economic inequality could be held in check by political equality in the form of "one person, one vote." In this paper, we explore five possible reasons why the US political system has failed to counterbalance rising inequality. First, both Republicans and many Democrats have experienced an ideological shift toward acceptance of a form of free market capitalism that offers less support for government provision of transfers, lower marginal tax rates for those with high incomes, and deregulation of a number of industries. Second, immigration and low turnout of the poor have combined to make the distribution of voters more weighted to high incomes than is the distribution of households. Third, rising real income and wealth has made a larger fraction of the population less attracted to turning to government for social insurance. Fourth, the rich have been able to use their resources to influence electoral, legislative, and regulatory processes through campaign contributions, lobbying, and revolving door employment of politicians and bureaucrats. Fifth, the political process is distorted by institutions that reduce the accountability of elected officials to the majority and hampered by institutions that combine with political polarization to create policy gridlock.

Suggested Citation

  • Adam Bonica & Nolan McCarty & Keith T. Poole & Howard Rosenthal, 2013. "Why Hasn't Democracy Slowed Rising Inequality?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 103-124, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:27:y:2013:i:3:p:103-24
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.3.103
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Roland Benabou, 2000. "Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 96-129, March.
    2. David Austen-Smith, 2000. "Redistributing Income under Proportional Representation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(6), pages 1235-1269, December.
    3. Torsten Persson & Gerard Roland & Guido Tabellini, 2000. "Comparative Politics and Public Finance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(6), pages 1121-1161, December.
    4. Ansolabehere, Stephen & Hersh, Eitan, 2012. "Validation: What Big Data Reveal About Survey Misreporting and the Real Electorate," Political Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 20(04), pages 437-459, September.
    5. Levitt, Steven D, 1994. "Using Repeat Challengers to Estimate the Effect of Campaign Spending on Election Outcomes in the U.S. House," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 777-798, August.
    6. repec:cup:apsrev:v:100:y:2006:i:02:p:165-181_06 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Wojciech Olszewski & Howard Rosenthal, 2004. "Politically Determined Income Inequality and the Provision of Public Goods," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 6(5), pages 707-735, December.
    8. Stephen Ansolabehere & John M. de Figueiredo & James M. Snyder Jr, 2003. "Why is There so Little Money in U.S. Politics?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(1), pages 105-130, Winter.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies

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