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Inequality and Democratization: An Elite-Competition Approach

Thursday May 15, 2014, from 14:00 to 16:00
Room Fred Halliday - IBEI (1st Floor)
Research seminar
David J. Samuels (University of Minnesota)

Research on the economic origins of democracy and dictatorship has shifted away from the impact of growth and turned toward the question of how different patterns of growth – equal or unequal – shape regime change. Some argue that because the poor always outnumber the rich, franchise extensions should increase the demand for redistribution. When such pressures are high, autocratic elites should resist suffrage extensions. We challenge this purported syllogism between democracy and redistribution, and the concomitant assumption that a natural tension exists between democracy and property. Instead, autocracy represents a greater threat to property than democracy. Democracy does not emerge when redistributive threats to elite interests are low, it is more likely when rising yet politically disenfranchised groups demand greater voice because they have more to lose. Democracy is about fear of the autocratic state, not fear of the poor - and paradoxically, this occurs when income inequality is high, not low.