POLI 120A _ Explain the problematic consequences of radical redistribution for democratic

POLI 120A _ Explain the problematic consequences of radical redistribution for democratic


Radical Redistribution and Democratic Stability

A modern democracy has several minimum institutional features. A democracy is a system of competitive elites who are alternating. The leaders are elected to power through elections and electoral preferences are connected to policy outcomes. A democracy also operates through the rule of inclusion such as voter eligibility. It also includes enforceable political rights such as voting rights and ancillary liberties including the freedom of press and association. Stable democracies are devoid of ethnic and religious wars, revolutions, regional conflicts, and military coups. Inequality is the origin of the conditions that trigger popular demands for radical redistribution of power or wealth. However, the elites resist such demands. They reverse redistributive policies and overturn democracy. The poor can react through revolutions. Thus, democratic survival and political stability are threatened. Although the purpose of radical redistribution is to reduce inequalities in the society, it is detrimental to democratic stability.

Causes and Consequences of Radical Redistribution

In unequal societies where authoritarianism is predominant, poor citizens make redistributive demands. Consequently, the rich resist the introduction of democracy. The poor can organize revolutionary insurgencies and civil wars may break out. When the poor win, they take over the wealthy elites’ assets and form a left-wing dictatorship. The rich elite oppose democracy to prevent the poor from imposing high taxes on them. In nondemocratic states, the poor people are not included in political power. However, the poor pose the threat of a revolution, especially during crisis periods. The anticipation of radical redistribution can destabilize democracy as the rich elite can mount a coup to prevent reforms.

Democratic transitions are opposed by the wealthy elite because they alter the distributive status quo. Democratic change will benefit the poor such as small farmers while the rich elite will incur costs. An example is the reformist drive by the Socialist Party in Austria which involved the financing of welfare projects, housing and education using progressive taxes paid by the upper and middle classes. Such reforms adversely affected the profits of the rich while the poor benefited (Mann, 2004). Furthermore, some changes such as voting rights may benefit the two groups, but others may lead to costs that surpass benefits for one of the groups. For example, land reforms will benefit the poor but the rich land owners will be affected negatively because of the redistribution of their land. Moreover, reforms such as free trade can bring benefits to dynamic industries while the protected industries will be harmed.


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