Reducing Inequality Necessary For Our Democracy

Income inequality is both a political problem and an economic problem for the United States.

Politically, it is clear that income inequality undermines American democracy. In order for our system of representative government to maintain its legitimacy, it is crucial that elected officials remain responsive to the majority of their constituents’ demands. Yet study after study indicates that in the U.S., regardless of partisan affiliation, elected officials are overwhelmingly more responsive to the interests of relatively wealthier voters. In fact, Martin Gilens of Princeton University has shown that when higher income and lower income Americans disagree on a particular issue, elected officials are overwhelmingly inclined to side with the wealthy by a factor of two to one.
 
Of course, one could argue that there are many ways to address this last problem – strong campaign finance laws that place a real cap on the amount that any individual or entity can contribute seem like an obvious start. But a self-defeating cycle emerges where the momentum required to pass these reforms can never get off the ground because of the outsized influence that wealthy Americans already have on the political system. 
 
High levels of income inequality do more than undermine American democracy, however – they also inhibit economic growth. Researchers at the IMF published a report last October revealing that high levels of income inequality are associated with unstable economies prone to frequent crises and downturns. Redistributive policies that mitigate against income inequality can therefore actually help grow the overall size of the economic “pie” rather than simply re-slicing its constituent pieces.