Is inequality undermining democracy?



Is growing inequality undermining democracy? asks Staffan I. Lindberg, a professor of political science and the director for the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg. The latest Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) database highlights growing inequality in Europe between 1975 and 2017, both in overall socioeconomic indicators and in access to education and health, he writes for Carnegie Europe:

Socioeconomic inequality that results in unequal political power is where things have changed most. Like with educational equality, eighteen countries (53 percent) registered significant worsening of the situation, which leads to wealthy people having significantly more power than poorer people. But, the changes also tend to be of greater magnitude compared to educational equality. Among the countries with the greatest negative changes are Albania, Czech Republic, Norway, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain. 

Poverty, Inequality, and Democracy, a book from the NED’s Journal of Democracy, addresses such issues as whether democracy promotes inequality, the socioeconomic factors that drive democratic failure, and the basic choices societies make in deciding how to address inequality.

Regarding legitimacy in particular, equality minimizes the resentments and frustrations of some groups in society, thereby leading to greater overall acceptance of the system in place, Lindberg adds:

As noted by the sociologist Seymour Lipset, if some groups are effectively prohibited from political and governing processes, the legitimacy of the system is likely to remain in question. Empirical studies also support the idea that the decision to participate in the political system expresses legitimacy for that system.8 Exclusion from democracy can be indirect or informal (such as when suffrage is legally universal) but some groups in society are denied the protections and resources necessary to participate. There are abundant examples of informal limitations: intimidation of particular voter groups, unequal access to justice, and deprivation of resources that make participation possible, such as time, money, healthcare, or education.

His article is part of the Reshaping European Democracy project, an initiative of Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program and Carnegie Europe. RTWT

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