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Tags: Rodrik | income | inequality | vote

Social Science Professor: Income Inequality Strikes 2 Blows Against Democracy

By    |   Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:18 PM

Widening income inequality prompts politicians to pursue poisonous politics that divides society and inflames passions against minority groups, argues Dani Rodrik, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Increasing inequality inflicts two blows against democracy, he notes.

"Not only does it lead to greater disenfranchisement of the middle and lower classes; it also fosters among the elite a poisonous politics of sectarianism," Rodrik writes in an article for Project Syndicate.

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Rodrik points to a study by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University that examined almost 2,000 policy questions from 1981 to 2002. The two political scientists analyzed how closely each policy question matched the preferences of middle-class voters and the top 10 percent of income earners and whether the federal government adopted the policy question within four years.

They found that when the views of average voters and the top 10 percent diverge, the wealthy tend to get their way. The average voter holds little sway, while the influence of economic elites remains strong.

"The implication is clear: when the elites' interests differ from those of the rest of society, it is their views that count — almost exclusively," he writes.

So how do politicians get elected and re-elected while ignoring the majority and favoring the rich?

Interests of the different income groups are often the same or similar, making it difficult to discern a politician's bias, Rodrik explains.

However, politicians also win over the masses, despite favoring the wealthy, by using nationalism and sectarianism, or as he says, "politics based on cultural values and symbolism rather than bread-and-butter interests."

You see that in culture wars over "family values" and polarizing issues like immigration, Rodrik asserts.

"As a result, conservatives have been able to retain power despite their pursuit of economic and social policies that are inimical to the interests of the middle and lower classes."

Politicians using "identity politics" divide privileged insiders and outsiders holding different values or belonging to different ethnic or religious groups, he says, pointing to Russia, Turkey, and Hungary.

"In doing so, they typically inflame passions against religious and ethnic minorities."

A recent Harvard Business School alumni survey concludes that increasing income inequality is unsustainable. While highly skilled workers are prospering, middle- and working-class Americans are struggling.

"Struggling citizens are disgruntled at work, frugal at the cash register, and anti-business at the ballot box," the report states. "We agree strongly with this view: businesses cannot succeed for long while their communities languish."

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Widening income inequality prompts politicians to pursue poisonous politics that divides society and inflames passions against minority groups, argues Dani Rodrik, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Rodrik, income, inequality, vote
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2014-18-11
Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:18 PM
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