Democracy, Pluralism and Inequality

by George Hatjoullis

The treatment, or rather lack of treatment, of inequality in economics was a constant theme of the Economics series of blogs. The concern in those blogs was how income and wealth inequality undermined the process of realisation of claims on GDP and thus of the process of GDP creation. Ultimately the capitalist system is undermined by the very process that drives it;inequality. Government spending, notably in the unproductive form of military expenditure, is essential to keeping the system going. There is also a wider social implication of the existence of excessive inequality.

Democracy need not be inclusive. It allows for the possibility of a small majority oppressing and dominating a large minority. Pluralist democracy fulfills the egalitarian notion that most associate with the term ‘democracy’. Indeed the socially valuable concept is pluralism. In a pluralist society power is distributed and is inclusive of all groups. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the obvious point that extreme inequality may negate an otherwise pluralist society.

Wealth is power. This much is obvious. However, some societies act to minimise the power of wealth in important ways. In these societies, election expenses are limited and closely regulated. Adequate legal aid ensures all have effective access to law. If money is an obstacle to access to political power and law, then a society with extreme income inequality cannot claim to be pluralist.The infrastructure of pluralism may be present but the lack of funds negate its force.

Societies that pride themselves on being democratic need to look more closely at the reality. Is money an obstacle to political power? Does money play a role in the quality of defense available in criminal trials? If the answer is ‘yes’ to either question, and there is significant wealth inequality, then the society has misplaced pride and does not constitute a pluralist democracy.