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  • Poverty, Inequality, and Democracy

As Francis Fukuyama notes below, "One of the oldest debates in democratic theory concerns the degree to which the formal political and juridical equality offered by liberal democracies needs to be supplemented by substantive social equality—in terms of income distribution, access to social services, and ability to participate in public life." This subject has not been neglected in the Journal of Democracy. In 1992, on the fiftieth anniversary of Joseph Schumpeter's classic Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, we devoted a special issue to revisiting this question. And in 1994, we published a special issue on "Economic Reform and Democracy" that focused on the problems posed by efforts to pursue both democratic political reform and market-oriented economic reform at the same time. Although some observers thought that it would be hard to move on both fronts at once, it is fair to say that in the subsequent years a number of countries did indeed liberalize their economies while strengthening their democracies.

More recently, as the attention of democracy scholars has fixed on questions of democratic consolidation and quality, with a primary focus on the role of political institutions, the Journal has less frequently addressed matters related to the social and economic context of democracy. The return to this subject, marked by the essays introduced here, reflects recent changes in the world, and especially developments in Latin America. The failure of most Latin American democracies to achieve broad-based economic growth or significant reductions in poverty is not only disheartening in itself but widely seen as responsible for an upsurge of populism that may threaten democracy. All indications suggest that this problem is increasingly making itself felt in other regions as well.

The essays that compose this cluster were not commissioned as a group, but came to us through varying channels. This is perhaps a further sign of the new salience of the issues they treat, but it also means that their authors come to the subject with different preoccupations. Ethan B. Kapstein and Nathan Converse present a broad analysis of "Why Democracies Fail" in which they measure the impact of economic inequality along with other, noneconomic factors. Francis Fukuyama stresses the damage caused by economic inequality in Latin America, and examines the new social policies that have shown some success in fighting poverty. Mitchell Orenstein focuses on welfare states in the postcommunist world and the new adjustments needed in the years ahead. And Peter Lewis highlights the paradox of "growth without prosperity" and the challenge that it poses for Africa's new democracies. The wide range of issues discussed in these essays are of high importance for the future of democracy, and we intend to return to them in the period ahead.

                                                         —The Editors [End Page 56]

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
p. 56
Launched on MUSE
2008-10-18
Open Access
No
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