Title: Democracy and Distribution
30 - January - Lecture
1 - February - Discussion
Lecturer: Ian Shapiro, Professor and Chairman, Political Science

Lecturer BIO :Ian Shapiro, Ph.D., Yale University, 1983, J.D., Yale Law School, 1987, is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Political Science and Chairman of the Department. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and has been a Fellow at the Guggenheim Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. He has held visiting appointments at the University of Cape Town and Nuffield College, Oxford. His research interests include the methodologies of the social sciences, theories of justice and democracy, and the emergence and evolution of democracy in the post-communist world and sub-Saharan Africa. He is author of Democratic Justice (Yale University Press, 1999), Democracy’s Place (Cornell University Press, 1996) Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, with D. Green (Yale University Press, 1994), and Political Criticism (University of California Press, 1990). His next book, Democracy and Distribution will be published by Princeton University Press.

Lecture Description:

This lecture addresses two questions: why has American democracy done so little to improve the condition of the poor and near poor, and what can be done about it? These questions are motivated by a practical concern and a theoretical conundrum. The practical concern is the persistence of comparatively high proportions of the population living in or close to poverty, and the widening income gap between them and better-off Americans. The theoretical conundrum is that this state of affairs is surprising, given standard expectations about the effects of democracy on distribution. Nineteenth century elites who resisted expansion of the franchise and socialists who endorsed the “parliamentary road to socialism” agreed that if majority rule is imposed on a massively unequal status quo, then most voters would favor taxing the rich and transferring the proceeds downward. This was formalized in political science via the median voter theorem. It predicts majority support for downward redistribution, given a distributive status-quo like that in the advanced capitalist democracies. In the lecture I explore a number of reasons why the theorem does not hold in practice, and discuss the implications for democratic reforms that might improve the absolute relative and absolute condition of those in the bottom quintile of the population.

Copyright 2001, Ian Shapiro






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