01/25/2016 Colloquium - David Samuels: “Inequality and Democratic Survival”
From David Price
Conventional wisdom holds that democracy endures in rich countries but is unstable in poor ones. Building on Ansell and Samuels (2014), we suggest that the sources of democratic stability lie not just with a country’s level of wealth, but with its distribution. However, we conceive of inequality and its impact differently from work that focuses on the median voter’s demand for redistribution. In our view, democracy’s survival depends on contestation between competing economic elites, not between a unified elite and the relatively poor median voter. This leads to novel implications: Rural inequality is associated with democratic collapse, but income inequality is not. Results support our theoretical approach and reveal that democracies with low or high income inequality are likely to survive—as long as the landed elite is weak. Wealthier countries are less likely to break down—not because there is less pressure for redistribution, but because different patterns of rural inequality are associated with different levels of development.