“SQUEEZING the top 1% ought to be the most natural thing in the world for politicians seeking to please the masses. Yet, with few exceptions, today’s populist insurgents are more concerned with immigration and sovereignty than with the top rate of income tax. This disconnect may be more than an oddity. It may be a sign of the corrupting influence of inequality on democracy.
You might reasonably suppose that the more democratic a country’s institutions, the less inequality it should support. Rising inequality means that resources are concentrated in the hands of a few; they should be ever more easily outvoted by the majority who are left with a shrinking share of national income. …
A rising tide lifts all votes
The evidence that concentrated wealth contributes to concentrated power is troubling. It suggests that reducing inequality becomes less likely even as it becomes more urgent. It implies that a vicious cycle of rising inequality may be developing, with a loss of democratic accountability as a nasty side-effect. Some social scientists argue that this is, indeed, the way of things. In “The Great Leveler”, published last year, Walter Scheidel writes that, across human history, inequality inevitably rises until checked by disasters like wars or revolutions.
This is excessively pessimistic. The rich are powerful, but not all-powerful, or uniform in their determination to keep distributional policies off the agenda. And Western democracies still function. If political leaders tried it, they might well find that redistribution is a winner at the ballot box.”