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Democracy, Inequality, and Representation in Comparative Perspective

Pablo Beramendi, Christopher J. Anderson

Publication Year: 2008

The gap between the richest and poorest Americans has grown steadily over the last thirty years, and economic inequality is on the rise in many other industrialized democracies as well. But the magnitude and pace of the increase differs dramatically across nations. A country’s political system and its institutions play a critical role in determining levels of inequality in a society. Democracy, Inequality, and Representation argues that the reverse is also true—inequality itself shapes political systems and institutions in powerful and often overlooked ways. In Democracy, Inequality, and Representation, distinguished political scientists and economists use a set of international databases to examine the political causes and consequences of income inequality. The volume opens with an examination of how differing systems of political representation contribute to cross-national variations in levels of inequality. Torben Iverson and David Soskice calculate that taxes and income transfers help reduce the poverty rate in Sweden by over 80 percent, while the comparable figure for the United States is only 13 percent. Noting that traditional economic models fail to account for this striking discrepancy, the authors show how variations in electoral systems lead to very different outcomes. But political causes of disparity are only one part of the equation. The contributors also examine how inequality shapes the democratic process. Pablo Beramendi and Christopher Anderson show how disparity mutes political voices: at the individual level, citizens with the lowest incomes are the least likely to vote, while high levels of inequality in a society result in diminished electoral participation overall. Thomas Cusack, Iverson, and Philipp Rehm demonstrate that uncertainty in the economy changes voters’ attitudes; the mere risk of losing one’s job generates increased popular demand for income support policies almost as much as actual unemployment does. Ronald Rogowski and Duncan McRae illustrate how changes in levels of inequality can drive reforms in political institutions themselves. Increased demand for female labor participation during World War II led to greater equality between men and women, which in turn encouraged many European countries to extend voting rights to women for the first time. The contributors to this important new volume skillfully disentangle a series of complex relationships between economics and politics to show how inequality both shapes and is shaped by policy. Democracy, Inequality, and Representation provides deeply nuanced insight into why some democracies are able to curtail inequality—while others continue to witness a division that grows ever deeper.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

Part 1. The Context

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pp. 1-2

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1. Income Inequality and Democratic Representation

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pp. 3-24

Similar concerns haunt academics and policy makers throughout the old world as recent scholarship suggests that excessive inequalities attack the foundations of democratic political regimes (Acemoglu and Robinson 2006; Boix 2003) and the distributive consequences of markets become increasingly unequal. But these long-standing and unresolved...

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2. Inequality Patterns in Western Democracies: Cross-Country Differences and Changes over Time

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pp. 25-61

There is some intuitive appeal in the idea that democracy is associated with a more equal distribution of income. By allowing for a better representation of the interest of the poorest classes in the society, democratic institutions may be instrumental in the adoption of progressive redistributive policies. Thus, in his celebrated model of an inverted-U relationship...

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3. Social Rights, Welfare Generosity, and Inequality

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pp. 62-90

Comparative analyses of welfare state reform have relied overwhelmingly on public spending as the indicator of program commitment and change.1 Yet many welfare state scholars have long criticized the use of this type of data, emphasizing the importance of nonspending features of welfare state institutions for understanding the impact of national social...

Part 2. How Democratic Politics Shapes Inequality

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pp. 91-92

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4. Electoral Institutions, Parties, and the Politics of Class: Explaining the Formation of Redistributive Coalitions

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pp. 93-126

There is considerable variation in the extent to which governments redistribute income, and there is broad agreement that the explanation for such redistribution lies in the design of political institutions and partisan responses to inequality (see also the chapters by Brandolini and Smeeding, Beramendi and Cusack, and Rueda, this volume). But just how politics...

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5. Economic Institutions, Partisanship, and Inequality

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pp. 127-168

There is a “transatlantic consensus” on the recent developments in economic inequality (Atkinson 1999). This is the widely shared view that the waxing wage and income inequality seen in the principal Anglo- Saxon countries during the last decades is also reflected in similar rises within most other developed economies. Wages and salaries have grown...

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6. Political Agency and Institutions: Explaining the Influence of Left Government and Corporatism on Inequality

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pp. 169-200

It is well known that wage inequality has increased dramatically in the United States over the last three decades. From 1973 to 1998, the hourly earnings of a full-time worker in the ninetieth percentile of the American distribution (someone whose earnings exceeded those of 90 percent of all workers) relative to a worker in the tenth percentile grew...

Part 3. How Inequality Shapes Democratic Politics

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pp. 201-202

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7. Economic Shocks, Inequality, and Popular Support for Redistribution

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pp. 203-231

Despite numerous predictions to the contrary, globalization has not led to convergence in redistribution policies in different countries. This chapter argues that this does not come as a surprise, at least if we conceptualize the politics of redistribution as interaction between exogenous shocks, popular demand for compensation, and government responsiveness to...

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8. Inequality and Unemployment,Redistribution and Social Insurance,and Participation: A Theoretical Model and an Empirical System of Endogenous Equations

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pp. 232-277

Conflicts of interest over the generosity and structure of redistribution and social insurance (which we call, jointly, social policy) include the conflict between the relatively poor and wealthy (which theoretically produces the familiar median-voter result that democratic demand for broad redistribution increases in the income skew) and the conflict between...

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9. Income, Inequality, and Electoral Participation

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pp. 278-311

The supposition that material welfare influences whether and how citizens participate in democratic politics has a long and rich tradition in the social sciences. Moreover, the notion that income and income inequality matter to democratic processes and the quality of democratic outcomes is widely accepted. Yet, while scholars have vigorously investigated the...

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10. Inequality as a Source of Political Polarization: A Comparative Analysis of Twelve OECD Countries

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pp. 312-353

This chapter focuses on the effects of income inequality on party politics in industrialized democracies. Having devoted a great deal of attention to the political determinants of income distribution in the 1990s, students of comparative political economy have recently begun to address how the distribution of income affects politics and, in particular, government...

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11. Inequality and Institutions: What Theory, History, and (Some) Data Tell Us

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pp. 354-386

That institutions covary with political and economic inequality seems obvious. Societies with feudal or clientelistic politics are characterized by extreme economic inequality, and democracies are associated (despite some notable exceptions) with greater economic equality than autocracies. Even within the set of democracies, institutions and inequality seem...

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12. Inequality and Democratic Representation: The Road Traveled and the Path Ahead

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pp. 387-416

The chapters in this book have examined the relationship between income inequality and processes of democratic representation in the advanced democracies of the West. They have traced the dimensions, evolution, and differences in income inequality across most if not all of the rich countries, including the United States and much of Europe. But...


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pp. 417-436

E-ISBN-13: 9781610440448
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540881

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Democracy -- OECD countries.
  • Representative government and representation -- OECD countries.
  • Equality -- OECD countries.
  • OECD countries -- Politics and government
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