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Democracy and income inequality : an empirical analysis

  • Gradstein, Mark
  • Milanovic, Branko
  • Ying, Yvonne

Standard political economy theories suggest that democratization has a moderating effect on income inequality. But the empirical literature has failed to uncover any such robust relationship. The authors take another look at the issue. The authors argue that prevailing ideology may be an important determinant of inequality and that the democratization effect"works through"ideology. In societies that value equality highly there is less distributional conflict among income groups, so democratization may have only a negligible effect on inequality. But in societies that value equality less, democratization reduces inequality through redistribution as the poor outvote the rich. The authors'cross-country empirical analysis, covering 126 countries in 1960-98, confirms the hypothesis: ideology, as proxied by a country's dominant religion, seems to be related to inequality. In addition, while in Judeo-Christian societies increased democratization appears to lead to lower inequality, in Muslim and Confucian societies it has an insignificant effect. The authors hypothesize that Muslim and Confucian societies rely on informal transfers to reach the desired level of inequality, while Judeo-Christian societies, where family ties are weaker, use political action.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 2561.

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Date of creation: 31 Mar 2001
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2561
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  1. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 2002. "Political economics and public finance," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 24, pages 1549-1659 Elsevier.
  2. Milanovic, Branko & DEC, 1994. "Determinants of cross-country income inequality : an augmented Kuznets hypothesis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1246, The World Bank.
  3. Hongyi Li & Lyn Squire & Tao Zhang & Heng-fu Zou, 1999. "A Data Set on Income Distribution," CEMA Working Papers 575, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
  4. Bisin, A. & Verdier, T., 1999. "A model of cultural transmission, voting and political ideology," DELTA Working Papers 1999-13, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
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  13. Perotti, Roberto, 1996. " Growth, Income Distribution, and Democracy: What the Data Say," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 1(2), pages 149-87, June.
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  15. Hochman, Harold M & Rodgers, James D, 1969. "Pareto Optimal Redistribution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(4), pages 542-57, Part I Se.
  16. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 0042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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