Voltaire has observed that “so long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men”.
This observation is supported by recent research by Ioannis Theodossiou and Alexandros Zangelidis who published a paper called “Inequality and Participative Democracy. A Self‐Reinforcing Mechanism” in the journal of Review of Income and Wealth. The study argues that there is a relatively recent notable increase in economic inequality accompanied by a decline in people’s engagement in politics and electoral participation. This unsatisfactory phenomenon undermines the legitimacy of democratic representation.
The study investigates the complex salient mechanism that produces this negative association and identifies a two-way causal relationship between inequality and political participation. Greater income inequality appears to alienate and discourage people from engaging with common affairs, thus leading to lower political participation. Yet, lower electoral participation leads towards a less equitable distribution of income. Hence, there appear to be a self-reinforcing mechanism where the unequal distribution of income leads to political exclusion, which in turn leads to more inequality.
Interestingly, the paper has been quoted in an opinion article in NYT (January 10, 2019) ‘The Lobbyists Blocking Nancy Pelosi and Her New Majority’ by Thomas B. Edsall, where the author quotes from the above study that there appear to be ‘ a self‐reinforcing mechanism where the unequal distribution of income leads to political exclusion, which in turn leads to more inequality. In other words, increasing inequality undermines support for a progressive agenda — the agenda most likely to improve the life chances and conditions of the least well off’. He concludes that income inequality leads to political apathy and back again (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/opinion/pelosi-trump-lobbying-democrats.html?fbclid=IwAR3lLn1MhzIgwDKUbJOmeVAz9pku31g4r1RFEvCgHjDbu_Jxqk8FTXWduOk)
The paper can be found at: https://bit.ly/2K6YUSN
Ioannis Theodossiou, B.Sc. (Piraeus), M.Phil., Ph.D. (Glasgow), (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)is a Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre for Labour Market Research. He has been a member of the University Council at the University of Thessaly, Greece, Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University of Australia and a member of the Council of the Scottish Economic Society.
Alexandros joined Economics at the University of Aberdeen in 2003. His research interests are in labour economics, health economics, and applied econometrics. Alexandros has led various funded projects (Nuffield Foundation, Chief Scientist Office, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland) and participated in large EU funded projects. Alexandros is the Head of Economics discipline.