How Political Voice Fares in an Age of Rising Inequality: Frederick Solt’s Research on Economic Inequality and Democracy

The basics of modern life — job, education, and income — can shape our interest in politics, our desire to discuss politics with others, and our decision to vote. In the parlance of social science, occupation and socioeconomic status may impact “political engagement.”

We politically engage, or not, during an age of rising economic inequality.

Economic inequality matters. It chastens social mobility: the rich stay rich and the poor have extreme difficulty, especially in hard times, to climb up the social ladder.

Economic inequality is something you can see. You can see somebody driving down the street in a car that you can’t afford. You can walk the city and gape at the rich neighborhoods. The economic “gap” can stimulate or irritate; it is something you feel.

Frederick Solt, now an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa, thought that the economic inequality all around us influences our socioeconomic situation which, in turn, influences our political engagement.

This is a story of two of Fred Solt’s research articles on how political voice fares in an age of rising economic inequality.

The Theories of Engagement

If economic inequality touches so many areas of modern life, then, he reasoned, it must also play a role in whether people care about politics and show up to the voting booth. But how can inequality – that there are rich and poor and that there is a large gap between them – influence political engagement?

Solt consulted the literature on politics and inequality and sorted through the explanations, old and new. He read Moore, Dahl, Brady, Schlozman, and Verba. He read de Tocqueville, Schattschneider, Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens, Lijphart, and Lukes.

He built on their work and devised three main theories.

Continue reading “How Political Voice Fares in an Age of Rising Inequality: Frederick Solt’s Research on Economic Inequality and Democracy”

Interview with Renira Angeles on Politics, Inequality, and Executive Pay

Renira C. Angeles, who recently received her PhD in Political Science from Central European University (CEU), Hungary, has presented a paper co-authored with Achim Kemmerling, University of Erfurt, Germany, “How Redistributive Institutions Affect Pay Inequality and Heterogeneity among Top Managers,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held December 2018 in Warsaw, Poland.

Dr. Angeles applies quantitative research methods to understand the political causes and consequences of income inequality, especially at the high-end of the income ladder, as well as the consequences of parties’ economic policies. Renira C. Angeles recently published the article, “The Politics of Top Executive Compensation in Advanced Democracies,” in Sociology Compass. In 2018, Dr. Angeles led a project on technology, inequality and education in the Norwegian Board of Technology, providing policy advice to the Norwegian Parliament.

We asked Dr. Angeles for an extended abstract of their Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about their research.

Extended Abstract

 The incredible rise of executive pay has received a lot of scholarly interest. Since the 1970s, generous bonus rewards for top executives have appeared more frequently. This trend has been more widespread in some democracies more than others. This paper asks, Why do some advanced democracies experience growth average CEO pay levels more so than others? We argue that a crucial problem in moderating these increases is the heterogeneity among top managers. In particular, inequality among top managers’ pay makes redistributive institutions, more so than other institutions, better suited to deal with rising pay. To empirically test our argument, we use a novel data set on executive pay across 17 OECD countries. We compare the effect of different institutional factors: corporate and personal income taxation, the unions’ bargaining power, and regulative attempts. We find that redistributive institutions of personal income tax and unions’ bargaining power is effective in moderating high labour wages, especially for very large firms as measured by their stock market value.


The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was a co-authored paper (with Achim Kemmerling) on cross-national variation in the pay of top managers. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

I’m interested in the multidimensionality of inequality and the different implications it has for democracies. I got interested in assessing CEO pay and inequality during my MA studies where I examined the politics of CEO pay in the largest Norwegian state-owned companies.  Looking into CEO pay does not tell us the whole story on the politics of inequality, but it can tell us a good deal about the economic fortunes of the working poor. Although we have firm research in redistributive politics, and theories of institutions and income inequality, we need specific theories that can tell us why average CEO pay differs across industrialized economies.

Further, I was interested in looking across Europe where redistributive institutions and policies in general exist to a greater extent than, say, the US.  This paper assesses the political causes of CEO pay, but that is just half of the story. My interest into this topic also evolved from the thought of the possible policy feedback that generous bonus schemes can generate.

Renira Angeles Warsaw Politics and Inequality Conference

In this paper, you use an original dataset. Please briefly describe these data and why they are well-suited for your research.

The data is collected from annual reports of firms. There are executive characteristics as well as industry and firm characteristics. It is well suited to my mission to assess redistributive institutions and policies because it is a record of the economic fortunes of top managers who – because money is a political resource – can also be significant political actors.

Continue reading “Interview with Renira Angeles on Politics, Inequality, and Executive Pay”

Interview with Catherine Bolzendahl on Women’s Political Empowerment Worldwide

Catherine Bolzendahl, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology of the University of California-Irvine, recently delivered the keynote speech, “Women’s Political Empowerment: A Path toward Progress in Uncertain Times,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held December 2018 in Warsaw, Poland.

Catherine Bolzendahl’s interests are in political change cross-nationally and over time, as well as gender and politics. Her research has appeared in Social Forces, European Sociological Review, and British Journal of Sociology, among others. Her recent book is the co-edited volume, Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Across the Globe: Strategies, Challenges and Future Research (2017, Palgrave).

We asked Professor Bolzendahl, via email, some questions about her research.

At the Politics and Inequality conference, you presented your long-running and varied research on gender and politics in comparative perspective, and what comes next for your research. Looking back, what are some of your most important findings and discoveries?

This is an interesting question because I feel like it is only lately that I’m starting to identify the broader contributions of my current body of work. I’ve always been fundamentally interested in how and why women and men engage with politics and how politics shapes people’s lives as men and women. Of course, this is strongly centered on concerns regarding inequality. My work has led me to a few findings that have been exciting and compelled me to keep digging. First, nations where women have more equality to men politically and economically invest more in social policy generosity. In particular, this contributes to the growing conclusion that women’s political representation changes the policy output in a nation for the better. Second, that we often define politics too narrowly, and in ways that exclude and undervalue women’s contributions as political citizens. This undermines both gender equality and an accurate understanding of women’s political contributions. Third, there is pervasive gender inequality within legislatures, and many are structured to segregate women’s and men’s participation and thus reify patterns of inequality that limit potential for larger change.

What challenges have you faced in conducting or presenting your research on gender?

There are many! As a sociologist, much of my work depends on the larger body of work on gender and politics that exists within the field of political science. Political sociology and political science have long been intertwined and successfully pushed our knowledge forward. However, in sociology, by studying gender, the field does not always know what to do with my work. Political sociology tends to view my work as belonging more to gender and gender scholars see my work as belonging more to political sociology. This makes it difficult to navigate publication outlets, and I often find myself publishing in political science journals. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that issues of gender and politics are of central concern to sociology and work to publish and advocate for such work in the field. Unfortunately, political scientists often do not cite sociology, which may lower my profile in this larger sub-field. By networking across both sociology and political science, I work to counter this, but it is more challenging. Nevertheless, working at the intersections is also, I think, more exciting.

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Interview with Piotr Zagorski on Education and Support for Right-wing Populist Parties in Central and Eastern Europe

Piotr Zagorski and Andrés Santana, of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain, recently presented their paper, “Voice or Exit: Education, Support for Right-wing Populist Parties, and Abstention in Central and Eastern Europe,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held December 2018 in Warsaw, Poland.

Piotr Zagórski is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Faculty of Law, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He holds an MA in Sociology from Universidad de Granada. His research interests include electoral behavior with a special focus on turnout and comparative politics with an emphasis on European populist parties. Zagorski’s co author, Andrés Santana, is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Pompeu Fabra University, an MA in Sociology from the Juan March Institute, and a Graduate Degree in Data Analysis from the University of Essex. Dr. Santana has published in the European Sociological Review and Politics & Gender, among others, as well as several book chapters and books. His fields of interest are electoral behavior, populist parties, political elites, women’s representation, research methodology, and quantitative research techniques.

We asked Piotr Zagorski for an extended abstract of their Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about their research.

Extended Abstract of Zagorski and Santana

The growth in the success of populist parties in many developed democracies has prompted a parallel increase in the studies on the electoral sociology of right-wing populist parties (RPP) in Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). However, the relationship between populism and turnout has been understudied in the literature. Existing scholarship fails to clarify whether voting for RPP and abstention are two largely interchangeable outcomes provoked by a common set of factors or two alternative courses of action undertaken by different types of individuals. If the former were true, RPP might be a corrective for democracy in terms of closing the representational gap for citizens whose preferences are unmet by the political supply of other parties. Thus, RPP might manage to reduce the existent political inequalities in political participation. This paper aims at examining the sociodemographic characteristics of those who vote for RPP and those who abstain, in comparison to those who cast their ballots for other parties. As education reduces the propensity of both voting for RPP and of abstention, we focus on explaining when low levels of education lead to voice (voting for RPP) and when do they increase the chances of exit (abstention). We estimate multinomial logistic regression models using cross-sectional data of the 2014 European Elections Study for 9 CEE countries. This approach enables us to show that education affects RPP voting and abstention differently. We find that, after taking into account anti-immigration attitudes and Euroscepticism, education has no independent effect on RPP support. Moreover, anti-immigrant and anti-EU attitudes do not mobilize highly educated citizens to cast a ballot for RPP. We also show that, although RPP are successful in drawing the low educated and anti-immigrant or Eurosceptic citizens to the polls, many of them choose to stay home on the election day.


The research co-authored with Andrés Santana that you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on voting for right wing populist parties in Central and Eastern Europe. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

Nowadays it is quite hard to avoid to study populism in Political Science. Due to a remarkable number of papers presented on this topic during the last ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) General Conference in Hamburg, the joke was that it should be renamed as “European Consortium for Populism Research”. Given the recent surge of populist parties and candidates around the world, it does not come as a surprise that political scientists try to understand and explain this phenomenon. From my own perspective, as I come from Poland, my interest in right-wing populist parties (RPP) in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is obviously related to the success of Law and Justice and its consequences for democracy in my homeland.

As we point out in the paper, research linking RPP voting with electoral turnout is scarce, especially for CEE. Both Andrés and I are passionate about studying electoral turnout. Andrés wrote his dissertation on the rational calculus of voting, and he is also one of the supervisors of my dissertation on electoral turnout in CEE. In this paper, we wanted to assess the connections between turnout and voting for populist parties. The rationale behind it was to see whether RPP can have a corrective effect on democracy, by reducing some of the political inequalities produced by the distinct levels of electoral participation among citizens with different social profiles. To put it differently: can voting for RPP and abstention be considered as two alternative courses of action (voice or exit, respectively) for citizens who do not find non-populist parties as attractive options?

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Interview with Gwangeun Choi on Economic and Political Inequality in Cross-national Perspective

Gwangeun Choi presented the paper, “The Link between Economic and Political Inequality in Cross-National Perspective” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland in December 2018.

Dr. Choi recently received a PhD in Government at the University of Essex in the UK. His research interests are in the areas of democracy, quality of democracy, political inequality, economic inequality, perceived inequality, redistributive preferences, redistribution, and universal basic income. His latest article, “Revisiting the Redistribution Hypothesis with Perceived Inequality and Redistributive Preferences” appeared at the European Journal of Political Economy (2019).

We asked Gwangeun Choi for an extended abstract of his Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about his research. We are thankful for his positive and detailed response.

Extended Abstract by Gwangeun Choi

It is widely believed that there exists a debilitating feedback cycle linking economic and political inequality. However, there has been a lack of empirical evidence about this association, particularly, in cross-national comparative research. It is largely because cross-national measures of political inequality are underdeveloped. To fill this gap, this study introduces the Political Inequality Index (PII) and the Political Power Inequality Index (PPII). The PII is composed of the two dimensions: participation and representation, which are based on the reconceptualization of political inequality from the perspective of a middle-range conception. The PPII comes from the indicators that measure the distribution of political power across socioeconomic position, social group, and gender, which the Varieties of Democracy provides. This inquiry then investigates the two-way causal relationship between economic and political inequality. In the first causal direction, net income inequality is used as a proxy for economic inequality, while in the reverse causal linkage political inequality is supposed to influence market income inequality and redistribution separately, as income inequality is considered as an outcome of the two different distributive stages. In doing so, both causal directions between economic and political inequality are integrated into a unified framework. With respect to estimation techniques, a system GMM estimator for a dynamic panel data model, which is an increasingly popular estimation method, is mainly used to address the issue of endogeneity. The findings show that net income inequality does not significantly affect political inequality and that political inequality appears to have little impact on market income inequality, while political inequality seems to contribute to economic inequality by influencing redistribution in a negative direction.


The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on the relationship between political inequality and economic inequality in cross-national perspective. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

I first became interested in a concept ‘political equality’ while I was doing research on the quality of democracy. In my framework designed to conceptualize and measure the level of democracy, political equality was one of the three core principles of democracy. Thus, it was easy for me to construct a new measure of political inequality, building on this framework. The next step was to investigate the reciprocal relationship between economic inequality and political inequality, as I realized that there is a lack of empirical evidence on this linkage although no one seems to doubt the widespread belief of the vicious cycle between economic and political inequality.

What is most challenging about measuring political inequality, and why?

I think that the most challenging part is to provide convincing theoretical arguments on the conceptualization of political inequality. Measuring the quality of democracy is also faced with the same issue. My study on democracy and political inequality and several other studies attempting to measure them with relatively thick concepts reached a consensus in excluding both minimalist and maximalist approaches. However, this does not guarantee that the majority of scholars agree with a specific middle-range concept of democracy or political inequality. This is therefore a more pressing issue than a range of measurement problems.

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Interview with Constantin Manuel Bosancianu on Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socioeconomic Biases in Representation

Constantin Manuel Bosancianu, of WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany, presented the paper, “Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socio-Economic Biases in Representation: OECD over the Past 5 Decades” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland in December 2018.

Constantin Manuel Bosancianu is a postdoctoral researcher in the “Institutions and Political Inequality” unit at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). He focuses on the intersection of political economy and electoral behavior: how to measure political inequalities between citizens of both developed and developing countries, and what the linkages between political and economic inequalities are. Dr. Bosancianu received his PhD in 2007 from the Central European University, Budapest, with a dissertation on how the dynamics of party ideological shifts, economic inequality, and individual political participation unfold over time. He is interested in statistics, data visualization, and the history of Leftist parties. In the past, Dr. Bosancianu taught or assisted with teaching methods courses at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Winter and Summer Methods Schools, University of Heidelberg or University of Gießen, with a focus on regression analysis, R, Bayesian analysis, and multilevel modelling.

We asked Constantin Manuel Bosancianu for an extended abstract of his Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about his research. We are thankful for his positive and detailed response.

Extended Abstract

Disparities in political representation between socio-economic groups, if perpetuated over time, can lead to growing disenchantment with the political process, dropout from political life, and even the appearance of new political movements that challenge representative institutions (Taggart, 2002). Starting with the early investigations of Gilens (2005, 2009, 2012) for the US context, a series of analyses have found disparities in political representation across a larger number of consolidated democracies (Elsässer, Hense, & Schäfer, 2018; Giger, Rosset, & Bernauer, 2012; Peters & Ensink, 2015; Rosset, Giger, & Bernauer, 2013; Rosset, 2013). Despite the consistent results, we continue to have very limited knowledge about the causes and mechanisms for these disparities.

This analysis probes into this issue. By relying on an original data set of merged voter studies in 30 OECD countries, going as far back in time as the 1960s and 70s, I compute a measure of ideological congruence between voters and political parties. Called the Earth Mover’s Distance (Lupu, Selios, & Warner, 2017), it is based on citizens’ self-placement on a standard Left-Right axis, as well as their placement of parties on the same scale (Powell Jr., 2009). By relying on voters’ perceptions of parties rather than legislator self-placements (Lupu & Warner, 2018), my data overcomes the potential flaw of different understandings of “Left” and “Right” between people and political elites. This measure of congruence is then used to ascertain: (1) if representation gaps between voters at the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum are found in my sample, and (2) whether the gaps in representation are associated with a demand-side characteristic (disparities in political participation between the same socio-economic groups) or a supply-side factor (party ideological changes over time).

Preliminary findings do little to dispel the mystery surrounding the causes of unequal representation for poorer citizens, though they conclusively establish that such a gap exists. They furthermore establish that overall quality of representation is associated with disparities in participation: contexts where turnout between income groups is more unequal have worse overall representation of income groups. However, even when relying on a measure of participation disparities generated from individual-level data, no clear association exists between disparities in political voice and gaps in representation between income groups. Neither do party-system dynamics appear to explain the disparity in ideological convergence between income groups. Though inconclusive, the findings confirm those of Lupu and Warner (2018) and will hopefully spur the focus on additional mechanisms to explain the relative disadvantage in representation that poorer citizens are faced with.


The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on party–voter congruence. How did you get interested in this topic? And is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

The interest in political representation, for which party-voter ideological congruence is one proxy, came about through my focus on understanding how to measure the facets of political inequality between individuals and groups. For the past few years I have been interested in disparities in political voice between individuals and groups—aspects such as turnout, non-electoral participation, or political efficacy. These are shaped by individual resource endowments, which naturally generate inequalities in voice. This is only part of the story, though. Another part is how disparities in voice and political influence are shaped by systemic features pertaining to, say, the electoral system or party system configurations. Some of Orit Kedar’s work is an excellent example of this, as is that of Karen L. Jusko. My own attempts refer to another feature of the system: the distribution of parties along a Left–Right ideological dimension.

Continue reading “Interview with Constantin Manuel Bosancianu on Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socioeconomic Biases in Representation”

Interview with Jan Falkowski on Political Power and Land Inequality in Poland

Jan Falkowski, of the University of Warsaw, Poland, recently presented a paper, “Do Political and Economic Inequalities Go Together? Mayors’ Turnover, Elite Families and the Distribution of Agricultural Land” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland.

Jan Falkowski is an Assistant Professor with the University of Warsaw, Faculty of Economic Sciences, Chair of Political Economy. His primary research interests are in the impact of institutions and politics on economic processes, and the reciprocal influence of economic conditions on institutional environment and political life. His paper, “Promoting Change or Preserving the Status Quo? The Consequences of Dominating Local Politics By Agricultural Interests” was published in Land Use Policy (2017), and his paper with Grażyna Bukowska  and Piotr Wójcik, “The Political Power of Large‐Scale Farmers and Land Inequality: Some Evidence from Poland,” was just published by Sociologia Ruralis (2018).

We asked Jan Falkowski some questions about his research.

The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on the economic impact of the distribution of political power. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

The interlinkage between  political and economic power has always been of interest to me. Looking at the connection between political and economic inequalities seemed to me as a natural consequence of studying the former relationship since the distribution of power and the distribution of resources (be it political or economic) are closely related.

In this paper, you use an original dataset. Please briefly describe these data and why they are well-suited for your research.

Measuring economic inequality poses some difficulties as people are typically not so willing to share with others detailed information on how much wealth they have. We needed therefore to overcome this problem or, at least, to try to do so. We discovered that it should be possible to achieve this goal by looking at a specific, but coherent, part of the population, namely farmers. What we do in the paper is we take advantage of the fact that in Poland the information on those who received agricultural subsidies is public. So it is possible to gather, at the individual level, the information on how much money a given person received in the form of the so-called direct payments. In the system that Poland uses to subsidize farmers, direct payments are granted to farmers based on a national flat rate per eligible hectare, and – contrary to what we observe in many other EU Member States – they do not depend on the historical reference period. Thus, the distribution of direct payments at the municipality level can serve as a good approximation of land use distribution. This, in turn, can be used to measure the distribution of wealth.  Obviously, the shortcoming is that it can serve as a good approximation of wealth distribution only in rural areas, in which the dependence on agriculture as a source of living is high. In the paper we collate these data with the data on mayors’ turnover which we use as an approximation of political inequality.

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Interview with Katerina Vrablikova on Economic Hardship, Politicization and Protest

Katerina Vrablikova, of the University of Bath, UK, recently presented a paper, “Economic Hardship, Politicization and Protest in Western Democracies,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland.

Since Fall 2018, Kateřina Vráblíková has been a senior lecturer in Politics at the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies at the University of Bath. During Spring 2019, she is also an Istvan Deak Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. She does research on social movements, political participation, political attitudes and culture, and democracy. Her book, What Kind of Democracy? Participation, Inclusiveness and Contestation was published by Routledge in 2017.

We asked Katerina Vrablikova for an extended abstract of her Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about her research. We are thankful for her positive and detailed response.

Extended Abstract: “Economic Hardship, Politicization and Protest in Western Democracies” 

How and why does economic crisis and similar situations trigger protest of poor? The paper argues that in addition to the expansion of the pool of deprived people, who can potentially protest (composition mechanism), events like the Economic crisis also provide a supportive political environment for political mobilization of socio-economically excluded groups (mobilization mechanism). As potentially very threatening and unpredictable event, economic crisis can skyrocket the salience of the economic problems in national politics. This opens space for the re-definition of economic issues and identities and for political mobilization of socio-economically deprived people, who, under normal circumstances do not participate much because they lack resources necessary for participation. Typically, protest attracts relatively resourceful and financially secure people, who get active around a variety of issues that are not directly related to their personal situation, such as environmental, anti-war, women’s rights, anti-corruption mobilizations. Protest of socio-economically deprived people is different. It is motivated by the personal experience of bad socio-economic conditions that becomes a purpose of mobilization and tales place despite the lack of individual resources. The article uses data from four waves of European Social Survey that are combined with macro-economic data and aggregated survey data (Eurobarometer) on public concern about national economy (percentage of people saying that the economic situation is very bad). The results show that poor people were most likely to protest in times of the Economic crisis in countries where the economic problems raised a very high concern. In the period before the Great Recession and in countries where economic problems were not recognized as severe and salient, poor people are much less likely to protest. In this special situation of economic crisis, poor thus get mobilized and join the better-off protesters, who are the usual suspects at ordinary protests that get mobilized by salient issues also during normal times.


The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on the economic crisis and protest. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

In summer 2012, the Czech Republic experienced relatively high level of anti-austerity protest. That time I just defended my dissertation on non-electoral participation and worked at the Czech Academy of Sciences. I was asked in a radio interview about the causes of such unusually high protest mobilization and I, in fact, was not able to tell much in reply. Because, normally, we would say that it is more resourceful people and people with post-materialist values, who usually participate in politics more, including protest. These protests, however, did not seem to fit to this “privileged postmaterialist protester” story. For instance, an anti-Roma march in a Czech regional capital (in fact one that I come from) was the largest collective mobilization in the city since the 1989 revolution and, according to observers, the participants included a handful of rightwing extremists and low-income and low-educated Czechs. The profile of participants thus corresponded to old social movement theories that expect socio-economic grievances to trigger protest and that were considered disapproved in mainstream political participation and social movement literature. So, I followed this up and read more about the role of mobilizing grievances. It turned out that political context might play an important role in activation of the relatively unusual grievance participatory mechanismAnd this point very well fitted to my general interest in how political environment shapes citizens’ activism and preferences. In my other research, I have examined the role of political institutions and political culture on individual non-electoral participation.

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Neoliberalism and Democracy

by Alex Afouxenidis, National Centre for Social Research, Athens, Greece

Neoliberalism is based on the idea of ignoring fundamental human needs. The success of neoliberal political strategies rests on a mixture of rhetoric and control of democracy’s major local and global institutions. It is also based on the erosion of the key actors and institutions that are the main underpinnings of contemporary democracies, such as pressure groups, civic organizations, and educational institutes. In neoliberalism’s economic sphere, economic growth does not need to translate into growth of equality. Considering rising social, economic, and political inequalities, we are looking at abuse being taken for granted.

Understanding the Political Shift

The pervasive counter-democratic ideological force of neoliberalism has had a deep impact on people’s lives, identities and beliefs despite its obvious failure to sustain any meaningful sense of ‘economic growth’. This is evident in many regions across the world where economies are being re-structured and reformed generating greater forms of inequality and limiting political freedom. Political crises have become everyday occurrence for many nations. Governments are in a continuous state of instability and many turn to (semi?) authoritarian rule in order to retain power.

Market idealization is not working: it has generated profound constraints on people’s liberty and self-determination.

As one reflects upon the countless analyses and informed criticisms on the impact of neoliberal ideology and strategy, it becomes increasingly clear that the main constitutive element of this sort of ‘philosophy’ is related to the idea of ignoring fundamental human needs. This conceptualization has generated a rupture with respect to western classical liberal discourses such as those, for example, put forward by J. Locke, J.S. Mill or J. Rawls. For, even though they strongly suggested personal autonomy, they equally forcefully reflected upon the idea that if the needs of individuals are not adequately met then liberty will be limited.

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The Nationalist Retrenchment Hypothesis: Future of Global Governance and Political Inequality

by Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Polish Academy of Sciences

Is global governance inevitable? Is democratic global governance likely?

Borrowing from Elke Krahmann, we can define global governance as regulation of international relations without centralized authority, meaning that collaborative efforts to address interdependent needs are voluntary. Because global governance challenges national sovereignty, nation-states resist centralizing too much power in a single global body.

Despite that global governance challenges national sovereignty, its institutionalization has accelerated; nations are aware that no one nation can solve global problems, and globalization has forced even the most nationalistic countries to collaborate across state lines.

Rival Hypotheses

In addressing the question of governance inevitability, there are two major hypotheses: the global governance hypothesis, and the nationalist retrenchment hypothesis.

Global Governance Hypothesis: The more problems are global in scope, the greater the chance that global governance will emerge and be enhanced.

An alternative hypothesis posits a world in which the opposite occurs: Despite growing global problems, countries will shrink from international commitments that they think will limit their ability to act in their parochial self-interest. This is the nationalist
retrenchment hypothesis.

Nationalist Retrenchment Hypothesis: The more problems are global in scope, the greater the nationalist retrenchment.

By nationalist, I mean a nation-centric view of world events, akin to unilateralism. By retrenchment, I mean a stop and backslide toward unilaterialism in which countries eschew global governance strategies.

Is Nationalist Retrenchment a Possibility?

Nationalist retrenchment may be a mere theoretical counterfactual, something that at its fullest extent is not now possible. What evidence do we have in the modern era of nationalist retrenchment? The relationship between the United States and the UN is a useful case study. The “U.S. out of the UN!” movement has its roots in the ultra-right wing John Birch Society, and despite some occasional resurgence, it has never truly threatened to pull the United States from the UN or eject the UN from its New York City headquarters. Although the U.S. Congress has historically been skeptical of the UN, diehard members of the nationalist retrenchment club—anachronistic throwbacks to the pre- Wilsonian era (or the 1930s)—are a rare breed.

Political Inequality at Home –> Political Inequality in Global Governance

If global governance is inevitable, we can now turn to the next question: Is democratic global governance likely? Here is where the notion of political inequality is important.

There is plenty of evidence to support the view that global governance organizations are characterized by political inequality. Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the UN, said that “we cannot claim that there is perfect equality between member states.” Political inequality, according to Annan, can differ in extent: he says that the “small and powerless feel less unequal” at the UN than in other major international organizations.  Nevertheless, political inequality in terms of unequal voice and response continues to challenge the legitimacy of existing global governance institutions.

If international organizations, individual nations and social movements have thus far been relatively ineffective democratizers of global governance structures, it may be because political inequality at home translates into political inequality on the global stage.

Nationalists and internationalists—or, unilateralists and multilateralists—battle for supremacy over foreign policy within their own nations and in global governance organizations. We can imagine a situation in which nationalists win policy battles more often than internationalists, and where the scope of the policies made by nationalists precludes or minimizes actions to internationalize.

In a world where few countries have a lot and most have little, nationalist retrenchment can also weaken democratic development of these structures by de-funding these organizations and neglecting the needs of the disadvantaged.

This post is based on the article, Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf. 2013. “Democratic Global Governance, Political Inequality, and the Nationalist Retrenchment Hypothesis.” International Journal of Sociology 43(2): 55 – 69.