To Make Our Democracy Functional, We Must Confront Economic Inequality

Larry Bartels

The United States is a plutocratic disaster. Extreme levels of inequality and a political system in which elected officials cater primarily, if not exclusively, to the needs and interests of the rich have produced a social order beset with mounting problems and critical challenges that elections alone cannot realistically be expected to address. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, renowned political scientist Larry Bartels, author of the already classic work Unequal Democracy, provides a sweeping look at the state of our dysfunctional society.

C.J Polychroniou: In your book Unequal Democracy, you presented mountains of data revealing the seriousness of the problem of inequality in the United States. In your view, what have been the underlying factors for the emergence of a New Gilded Era, and why has the American political system failed to rise to the challenge of addressing the deep problem of inequality?

Larry Bartels: Most affluent democracies have experienced substantial increases in economic inequality over the past 30 or 40 years. In significant part, those increases are attributable to technological change, globalization and increased mobility of capital. … But different countries have responded to those changes in different ways. Most have mitigated their effects through increased redistribution, making post-tax-and-transfer incomes much less unequal. In the United States, there has been comparatively little redistribution. There have also been political shifts that have exacerbated pre-tax-and-transfer inequality, including deregulation of the financial industry, rules restricting the clout of labor unions and the erosion of the minimum wage.

Broadly, the difference is attributable to the economic ideology of America’s political leaders. More specifically, it is attributable to the economic ideology of Republican leaders. My historical analysis of partisan differences in income growth demonstrates that virtually all of the net increase in income inequality since the end of World War II has occurred under Republican presidents; income growth under Democratic presidents has tended to be faster and much more egalitarian.

What is the actual impact or effect of economic inequality on democracy?

We like to think that we can wall off our democratic political system from our capitalist economic system, leaving everyone free to get rich (or poor) but remain politically equal. In practice, however, that turns out to be impossible. Hence, “unequal democracy.”

My analysis of the voting behavior of US senators found that they are moderately responsive to the views of affluent constituents but completely ignore the views of low-income constituents. A study by Martin Gilens of policy outcomes likewise found that the probability that any given policy change will actually be adopted is pretty strongly related to the preferences of affluent people but virtually unaffected by the preferences of middle-class people, much less poor people.

Proposed explanations for these remarkable disparities in responsiveness often focus on distinctive features of the US — our permissive system of campaign finance, low rate of unionization, ethos of individualism and so on. But recent work along similar lines in other affluent democracies suggests that they, too, are marked by severe disparities in political influence rooted in economic inequality. Regardless of their specific political institutions, contexts and cultures, democratic systems seem to be chronically vulnerable to the conversion of economic power into political power. Read more


Health Communication In Southern Africa: Engaging With Social And Cultural Diversity ~ Introduction

A focus on Southern Africa as an area where more and better HIV/AIDS communication is needed cannot be better underlined than by recent figures on adults living with HIV (15-49 years): In Sub-Saharan Africa the figure stands at 11%, whereas the global percentage is 3.25% (UNAIDS, 2008). The rise in these figures over recent years can partly be accounted for by the introduction of antiretroviral therapy, which means that statistically people living with HIV have a higher life expectancy.

Still, 67% of the global HIV prevalence in 2007 was accounted for by Sub-Saharan Africa, as was 72% of the global AIDS deaths (UNAIDS, 2008). The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa affects women more than men (60% of people living with HIV were female in Southern Africa in 2007; UNAIDS, 2008), especially regarding HIV prevalence among youth. It is within this context that this book wants to consider the role that health communication may play in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Positive outcomes of health communication
How can health communication benefit the fight against HIV/AIDS? This positive influence may apply at different levels. Communication is an important part of prevention campaigns like in the case of the ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms) motto, which could contribute to a decline in HIV infections. Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa typically affects women more adversely than men, gender relations form an important contextual dimension of health communication. Prevention messages have to be reinforced by the empowerment of women, enabling them to change their vulnerable position in sexual relations and negotiations.

Prevention and treatment go hand in hand and both aspects should be addressed in health communication. Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) is a desirable outcome for several reasons. If people are infected they can get treatment and guidance. The spreading of infections may be controlled by more knowledgeable and responsible behaviour by HIV-infected people. Being more open about VCT might also change the perceptions of people living with HIV. Health communication can take the form of campaigns for better drug regimens and adequate state support. People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) need to take antiretroviral medicine to avoid AIDS, and their Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) compliance might be improved by good instruction and motivation. New media technologies have created opportunities to develop support networks for social movements and non-governmental organisations working to ensure better access to anti-retroviral medicines for PLWA.

The best-known example of such a network in Southern Africa is the one built around the group Treatment Action Campaign (Berger, 2006; Wasserman, 2005). The portrayal of PLWA may be changed in a more positive direction. Mass media and government policies need to be analyzed critically to detect and change negative or undesirable social representations of HIV/AIDS, or of individuals or groups associated with the disease. Health communication may serve to counter stereotyping, vilification or marginalisation of PLWA in sections of society who are seen as undeserving of state support, e.g. prisoners, migrants, asylum seekers, or sex workers (Berger, 2006). Read more


Health Communication In Southern Africa: Engaging With Social And Cultural Diversity – Cell Phones For Health In South Africa

L. Lagerwerf, H. Boer & H.J. Wasserman (Eds.) ~ Health communication in Southern Africa: Engaging with social and cultural diversity. Rozenberg Publishers/UNISA Press, Amsterdam/Pretoria, 2009

There is widespread global use of technology in medicine and health communication, leading to terms such as telemedicine, telehealth and e-health. A wide range of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is used both in the provision of services, as well as for messaging and communication campaigns. In South Africa, limited Internet penetration has led to increased experimentation with cell phones as a tool for social change. This paper provides a discussion of three of such projects: The Teen SMS Helpline of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG); SIMPill which assists patients with compliance to their tuberculosis medication; and CellLife’s Cell phones for HIV programme. The projects are described, and the paper reflects on the general possibilities for using cell phones in healthcare, weighing advantages and disadvantages, particularly in the local South African context.

The global trend of using new technologies in healthcare and health communication has made its way to Africa. A range of healthcare initiatives makes use of palm devices, the Internet, and other information and communication technologies, giving rise to the terms e-health, tele-health, and telemedicine (see Oh, Rizo, Enkin & Jada, 2005, for a literature review on the topic).

While the growing body of literature on this subject explores both the Internet and cell phones as ‘new’ media in the use of health promotion efforts, it is cell phones that are emerging as most popular, and possibly most effective, in health communication on the continent. Internet penetration in South Africa is increasing steadily, but the numbers of people with access to high-speed Internet connectivity here and elsewhere across Africa are probably still too low to allow the widespread success of Internet based applications, outside of telecentres set up specifically for this purpose. Recent statistics indicate that only one in 700 Africans has access to the Internet, versus one in four Europeans (Chakraborty, 2008).

On the other hand, the number of mobile subscribers in Africa has increased dramatically over the last few years. In 2007 Africa added over 60 million new
mobile subscribers and mobile phones represented 90 percent of all telephone subscribers (African Telecommunication/ICT Indicators, 2008). Indeed, cellphone penetration in Africa has increased rapidly since the privatisation of telephone monopolies in the mid-1990s (LaFraniere, 2005). Between 2000 and 2006, the total number of subscribers to cellphone services increased from 10 million to 110 million, in the 24 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and South Africa had more subscribers to cell phones than fixed lines (Buys, Dasgupta, Thomas & Wheeler, 2008). Similarly, an earlier study revealed that the number of mobile subscribers in 30 Sub-Saharan countries rose from zero in 1994 to more than 82 million in late 2004 and the rate of growth for the entire continent has been more than 58 per year (Mbarika & Mbarika, 2006). Clearly, Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s fastestgrowing wireless market and the rate of growth for the entire continent has been more than 58 per year (Mbarika & Mbarika, 2006). In South Africa, cellphone use is widespread, particular with the introduction of pre-paid services; and there are over 30 million users (Shackleton, 2007). Read more


André Köbben ~ Over de rol van ijdelheid in de wetenschap

Verschijnt 10 oktober 2017: André Köbben ~ Over de rol van ijdelheid in de wetenschap. Rozenberg Publishers. ISBN 978 90 361 493 7 – 96 pagina’s – Euro 12,50 – Omslag & DTP BuroBouws []

‘IJdelheid’, wat is mijn definitie van dat begrip? In de Van Dale wordt ijdelheid omschreven als ‘een te hoge dunk van de eigen
voortreffelijkheid’ en als ‘de zucht om door anderen bewonderd en geprezen te worden’. Beide omschrijvingen zijn voor mijn doel bruikbaar. Een zekere mate van ijdelheid in deze betekenis is veel beoefenaars van de wetenschap eigen, met name als ze de positie van hoogleraar bereikt hebben. Mij gaat het hier echter om gevallen waarbij ijdelheid zich in excessieve vorm voordoet. In die zin dat deze ook nog gepaard gaat met de ‘ik heb altijd gelijk’ gedachte, en vaak ook met ‘ik weet toch wel hoe het zit, ook zonder het onderzocht te hebben’.

Ik heb in ruime mate gegevens verzameld over tien zulke personen. In zeven van mijn casussen ben ik goeddeels tot mijn oordeel over hen gekomen op grond van eigen onderzoek en eigen ervaringen. In twee gevallen heb ik mede gebruik gemaakt van het zorgvuldige werk van een onderzoekscommissie. In drie gevallen heb ik mijn oordeel voornamelijk gebaseerd op doorwrochte studies van anderen. Ik heb niet de pretentie dat het hier gaat om zoiets als een representatieve steekproef. Wel meen ik een scala van gevallen te presenteren die de meeste variaties op dit gebied omvat. Zo heb ik gezocht naar voorbeelden uit onderscheiden gebieden van wetenschap. In zes gevallen zijn het beoefenaars van de sociale wetenschappen (in de ruime zin van het woord), in vier gevallen natuurwetenschappers (in de ruime zin van het woord). In vijf casussen betreft het actuele affaires, in de vijf overige om zaken die zich in het (nabije) verleden hebben voorgedaan. Die te bespreken is van belang, al is het maar om aan te tonen dat misstanden in de wetenschap niet enkel van vandaag of gisteren zijn. In alle tien gevallen betreft het mannen. Geen wonder. Immers in het nabije verleden waren bijna alle beoefenaars van de wetenschap van het mannelijk geslacht, en ook nu nog geldt dat voor een ruime meerderheid. Maar de emancipatie schrijdt met rasse schreden voort! Alweer enkele jaren geleden kreeg voor het eerst een vrouwelijke beoefenaar van de wetenschap een officiële berisping wegens wangedrag in de wetenschap. Ik noem
hier geen namen.

Excessieve ijdelheid in de wetenschap, in de hier geformuleerde betekenis van dat woord, heeft vaak schadelijke gevolgen en wordt daarom in dit geschrift bestreden. Achtereenvolgens bespreek ik leven en werk van de volgende personen: de fysisch geograaf Jan P. Bakker; de antropoloog Claude Lévi-Strauss; de socioloog Norbert Elias; de hersenonderzoeker Dick Swaab; de chemicus Henk Buck; de nanotechnoloog Jan Hendrik Schön: de sociaal psycholoog Diederik
Stapel; de antropoloog Mart Bax; de psycholoog Cyril Burt; de historicus Bernard Berenson.
De vraag die als eerste te beantwoorden staat is of ijdelheid in excessieve-mate bij onderzoekers in alle gevallen nadelig is voor de wetenschap. Read more


Will Brexit Destroy The UK’s Economy? An Interview With Malcolm Sawyer

Malcolm Sawyer ~ Emeritus Professor of Economics. Leeds University Business School

More than a year ago, British voters sent waves of shock throughout Europe and the world economy with their decision to withdraw from the European Union (EU). However, the impact of Brexit on the UK’s economy and its implications for the future of the EU remain contested territory, especially since the conservative government of Theresa May has shown astonishing ineptness so far in terms of the conditions of the divorce. In this interview, well-known British economist Malcolm Sawyer of the University of Leeds provides an insightful analysis on the major issues and questions associated with Brexit, shedding light on what the future may hold for both the UK and the EU.

C.J. Polychroniou and Marcus Rolle: Britain’s decision last year to leave the European Union represents a shattering political development, the effects of which remain incalculable both for the future of the United Kingdom and for the EU itself. But before we explore the political economy of Brexit, let’s start by asking you to explain to us what you believe were the key factors that prompted British voters to seek a divorce from the European Union.

Malcolm Sawyer: The result of the referendum vote of June 2016 was close — 52 percent [voted] “leave EU” and 48 percent [voted] to remain. In any referendum (and indeed other elections), it is difficult [if not] impossible to discern what people thought they were voting for or against. In this referendum, whilst the consequences of a “remain” majority could be perceived as continuation with present arrangements, those of a “leave” majority were obscure — and indeed, the UK government is now grappling with working out what the consequences will be.

For those who voted for the UK to leave, my impressions are that the key factors include:
– The appeal of “take back control,” particularly with regard to immigration and the free movement of labor within the EU. Whilst there appear to be net economic benefits for the UK from immigration, there will be winners and losers, and people’s perceptions may often be of little or no benefits: added to which, hostility towards foreigners.
– The remoteness of the EU, often labelled in terms of “Brussels” with connotations that decisions of the EU were being imposed on the UK without input from the UK. This interacted with the “take back control” and could be stoked up by stories (often false) of decisions made by the EU.
– Disbelief that the UK’s membership of the EU brought economic benefits. The UK’s contribution to the EU budget (a net cost of around ½ percent of GDP) was apparent (though much overstated by the leave campaign), and the benefits for enhanced trade and cooperation much more nebulous. The remain campaign would cite 3 million jobs dependent on trade with EU (again overstated), but that would mean 27 million jobs were not dependent on such trade.

A breakdown of the vote revealed two fractures: a sharp division between young and old, and a huge gap between London and the North. What does the political economy have to do with these two fractures, and what sort of economic policies can be implemented in the future that can heal a divided nation?

The voting patterns with regard to remain/leave can be broken down along a number of lines — a tendency for large cities to vote remain (not just London), two countries voted to remain (Scotland, Northern Ireland) and two to leave (England, Wales). Having a university education tended to be associated with voting “remain,” and the old were much more likely than the young to vote leave (there being overlap between the two in that participation in higher education was much lower in the 1950s and 1960s than in the past two decades).

There appears to be association between socially conservative attitudes and voting leave. Areas of industrial decline appeared more likely to vote leave, [as did] areas where immigration had increased substantially in the past decade (noting that migration from other EU countries rose sharply after 2004 with the entry of the new member states in that year).

There is, in my view, a division between remain voters and leave voters running along the lines of “what matters to them.” A potent slogan of the leave campaign was “taking back control” — applied to immigration (as the free movement of labor places few constraints on migration within the EU), and to the role of [the] European Court of Justice, and more generally, to adoption of laws (though the impact of EU legislation on UK legislation was often grossly overstated by leave campaign), and to some degree, over regulations associated with the single market, and over policies, such as the common fishery policy.

The remain campaign focused on the adverse economic consequences of the UK leaving the EU, and failed to address the issues raised by the leave campaign in connection with “take back control.” Although large numbers were bandied about for the economic losses associated with leave, in proportional terms, the losses were relatively small (less than 5 percent of GDP over a 15-year period, and then as compared with what would have otherwise occurred). If a person’s concern is over perception of a loss of control, and striving to take “back control,” then some economic loss may well appear inconsequential. But also, the leave campaign’s slogan to the effect that £350 million a week (equivalent to around 1 percent of UK GDP) was the cost to the UK of EU’s membership, money which could be spent on the NHS, served as an antidote to the remain campaign’s claims over economic damage from leaving the EU. The £350 million per week claim was much derided as inaccurate, representing the gross payments by UK to the EU and ignoring the money flowing back to the UK for the agricultural support policy, regional and structural funds, and research moneys to universities.
Read more


Globalization, Revolution, And Democracy

This article* studies the issue of democratization of countries within globalization context, it points to the unreasonably high economic and social costs of a rapid transition to democracy as a result of revolutions or of similar large-scale events for the countries unprepared for it. The authors believe that in a number of cases the authoritarian regimes turn out to be more effective in economic and social terms in comparison with emerging democracies especially of the revolutionary type, which are often incapable to insure social order and may have a swing to authoritarianism. Effective authoritarian regimes can also be a suitable form of a transition to efficient and stable democracy. The article investigates various correlations between revolutionary events and possibilities of establishing democracy in a society on the basis of the historical and contemporary examples as well as the recent events in Egypt. The authors demonstrate that one should take into account a country’s degree of sociopolitical and cultural preparedness for democratic institutions. In case of favorable background, revolutions can proceed smoothly (‘velvet revolutions’) with efficient outcomes. On the contrary, democracy is established with much difficulty, throwbacks, return to totalitarianism, and with outbreaks of violence and military takeovers in the countries with high illiteracy rate and rural population share, with low female status, with widespread religious fundamental ideology, where a substantial part of the population hardly ever hears of democracy while the liberal intellectuals idealize this form, where the opposing parties are not willing to respect the rules of democratic game when defeated at elections.

Keywords: globalization, Near East, Egypt, democracy, revolution, reaction, extremists, counterrevolution, Islamists, authoritarianism, excessive expectations, military takeover, economic efficiency.

Sociopolitical destabilization may be produced by rather different causes. However, sociopolitical transformations may be considered as ones of the most powerful among them. This may look paradoxical, but attempts of transition to democratic forms of government may lead to a very substantial destabilization of a society in transition. The present article analyzes the relationships between revolution, democracy and the level of stability in respective sociopolitical systems.

There is a widespread opinion that globalization contributes to the spread of democracy. Besides, there is a conviction, which is more widespread among the politicians and ideologists than among the scholars that democracy contributes to a faster and/or more adequate economic growth. The following quotation passionately expresses this conviction: ‘For the past three decades, globalization, human rights, and democracy have been marching forward together, haltingly, not always and everywhere in step, but in a way that unmistakably shows they are interconnected. By encouraging globalization in less developed countries, we not only help to raise growth rates and incomes, promote higher standards, and feed, clothe, and house the poor; we also spread political and civil freedoms’ (Griswold 2006).

In this context, many supporters of democracy consider extremely disappointing that sometimes democracy does not work properly and the waves of democratization get weaker. Samuel Huntington (1993) called the period of a fast spread of democracy in the 1970s – early 1990s ‘the third wave of democratization’. On the threshold of the twenty-first century, many researchers noted that the number of democratic regimes ceased to grow and that it would be a dangerous intellectual temptation for the democrats to consider that the world is inevitably moving towards some final natural democratic state (see Diamond 1999, 2004, 2008). In this situation, the trend has strengthened which promotes democracy in all countries with non-democratic or partially democratic regimes. This trend, on the one hand, is based on the global geopolitical goals of the USA and the West (see, e.g., Brzezinski 1998), and on the other hand, relies upon an active support of a broad ideological and informal movement. And this justifies the efforts to support democracy and to encourage democratic opposition for the purpose of increasing chances of victory of democracy in case of the crisis of authoritarian regimes (Diamond 2000). The intensive efforts led to a number of interventions and color revolutions. Read more

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