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Democracy and Inequality

Submitted by Ken Watts on Fri, 07/20/2007 - 09:07

Andrew Sullivan may well be the most rational voice for conservatism since Buckley, but there are still times when he just makes me tired. Today, he cites as "Bad news for liberals", George Borjas, quoting Arthur Brooks, arguing that average happiness levels aren't related to disparity in wealth.

In other words, I don't get more miserable every time Bill Gates collects another million.


The problem with the growing disparity in wealth has little to do with some imaginary happiness quotient, as Sullivan, Borjas, and Brooks well know.

There are, in fact, many very good reasons for being concerned about discrepancies in wealth. As I've pointed out before, however, the most important reason is the preservation of democracy and freedom.

Wealth is power, and democracy—in any meaningful definition of the word—is about distribution of power.

It's of absolutely no value to me to have "free speech" if the extremely wealthy control all the media. It's of little or no value to me to be able to vote if the super-wealthy pick the candidates. I may be able to write my representatives, but my letter counts very little against the influence of a phone call from a wealthy contributer.

There will always be discrepancies in wealth. But when those discrepancies become concentrated, power becomes concentrated. And when power becomes concentrated, democracy is threatened.

As hard as it may be to believe, this road could lead us to the day when the leaders of our country are really representatives of the wealthy, twist government policy to favor members of their own class, begin to dismantle the basic protections to our liberty, assume dictatorial powers...