Simple question: Can democracy exist with vast wealth disparity?

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Is this *really* what world you want to live in, libertarians?

Just out of curiosity. The top 85 "job creators" have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion "moochers" combined. But, that's because they WORK SO HARD, right? And those poor folk... well... just keep trying.

Without the /sarcasm on - this was once a famous quote:

"It also quotes Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, 'We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.'"

It's like the opposite of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Thoughts?

Was Justice Brandeis simply *wrong* ...?

Theoretically we can live in a world where major political decisions aren't made purely with the interests of an elite few in mind, where actual truly equal law applies to all regardless of social or economic standing and all of this despite massive wealth disparity. We can. We don't though.

If society were made up of extremely well educated individuals and nobody used their money to influence others, then sure, but that seems like a pretty crazy world. Otherwise no. Extreme disparity of power of any sort is anathematic to Democracy.

Literally speaking, a democracy does exist with vast wealth disparity (several, in fact). Practically speaking, it's more of a plutocracy.

Can it exist? Sure.

Will it be stable enough to last 20 years? Now that is the real question to ask.

The original democracies of Greece and the like put the decision making process in the hands of not everybody, either: Free, male citizens above a certain age only. You could obviously have a democratic system even if it only accounts for an elite. Democracy in itself isn't sufficient, it needs to be representative of the people and liberalistic in its application of rights and so on. The USA's democracy started out employing slavery on a large scale. It was still a democracy. An unjust one in that respect, sure, but a representative democracy nonetheless. Hell, most if not all (I'd have to check on the "all"-part) modern democracies that are around today didn't give women the right to vote until later on. Still democracies. I get the intent of the OP and I would agree that massive wealth disparity (but much more importantly, massive disparity in equality of opportunities and vertical mobility) is a big problem for our societies, but I don't think that makes them undemocratic, even if it limits the power of most of its people to actually influence politics in any meaningful way. It's just that being democratic isn't enough.

Can democracy exist with vast wealth disparity?

It can... for a while, but it won't survive long.

The problem is that the greatest the wealth disparity, the more efforts the rich will do to rig the competition and make sure that their own children -even the most inept and lazy- keep enjoying the lavish lifestyle they've grown used to.

And the best way to rig the competition is to make sure that being on top of the social food-chain becomes an hereditary privilege enforced by the State, therefore to ensure not only that the highest rankings members of the government hail from the upper-class, but also that as few as possible feel empathy toward the plebs, hence to either abolish the ballot box or to turn it into a meaningless empty shell.

Basically, the greatest the wealth disparity, the strongest the pull to demolish democracy.

Yes...ish.

No system is without flaws. Wealth disparity causes problems, which might or might not cause the system to fail.

Ayn Rand represents a narrow sect of libertarianism and the woman herself said anyone who didn't stick to her strict definition of libertarianism couldn't be considered a randist.

Stop saying "Is this what liberatarians want" when you're talking about a movement with 20+ ideologies in it and a heavy emphasis on individualism, which further fragments those 20+ ideologies.

Also: Define democracy.

My vote may be influenced by money in choosing who gets to run, with certain candidates getting tons of air time and other candidates getting almost none, but I still have the ability to cast a vote. Is that democracy?

It depends. What is democracy in the first place? Last time I rememberd not everybody agrees what democracy is in the first place.

I also feel that this "people having lots of money kills democracy!!!!" thingy is getting tiresome. Yes, perhaps if the wealth disparity is so extreme that the richest 1% own like 90% of the wealth like in ancient rome, then it would be a problem. But my nation's last horrible left-wing government is still fresh in my memory, so I don't feel like throwing away capitalism in favor of big government yet. In my opinion the problem that modern democracy faces isn't that some people are too wealthy, but rather that the political system is broken. Rather then banning wealth hoarding, it makes more sense to reform the political systems to make it harder to influence it with money.

Historically no. People vote themselves the gifts from the treasury, the state could only hide things for so long until fiscal disaster/being conquered until a Dictator comes into power to "fix" things.

This is over a historical period not a century long timespan.

Skeleon:
The original democracies of Greece and the like put the decision making process in the hands of not everybody, either: Free, male citizens above a certain age only. You could obviously have a democratic system even if it only accounts for an elite. Democracy in itself isn't sufficient, it needs to be representative of the people and liberalistic in its application of rights and so on. The USA's democracy started out employing slavery on a large scale. It was still a democracy. An unjust one in that respect, sure, but a representative democracy nonetheless. Hell, most if not all (I'd have to check on the "all"-part) modern democracies that are around today didn't give women the right to vote until later on. Still democracies. I get the intent of the OP and I would agree that massive wealth disparity (but much more importantly, massive disparity in equality of opportunities and vertical mobility) is a big problem for our societies, but I don't think that makes them undemocratic, even if it limits the power of most of its people to actually influence politics in any meaningful way. It's just that being democratic isn't enough.

The United States was set up as a constitutional republic. The federalist papers and commentary from those attending the constitutional convention that had enormous doubts of democracy. In fact I would argue that the Revolution happened not because of a Monarchy but because of an apathetic parliament. The Monarch simply became the face of the opposition to the movement that started the American Revolution.

There were numerous roadblocks created to halt any flow of democracy and the ability for any majority to impose their will on the minority. The federal government determines representation within the House through a census, maximum number of representatives is determined by Federal Statute. The senate's representation was changed in 1913 with the passage of the 17th amendment which moved the United States closer to a more democratic style.

States determined which qualifications were needed to exercise voting for the representative in question. At first voting rights were limited to property owners (For example a Black Slave Owner in the South would be allowed to vote). Suffrage was walked forward until the 19th amendment and recently the voting age being lowered to 18 due to the disgusting and I would argue now (post 13th amendment) unconstitutional draft.

I think you can have democracy with extreme wealth inequality but it will be extremely bad democracy.

What it means is of course that the wealthy have a disproportionate amount of influence in politics because of their connections to politicians and influence over the media- Look at Rupert Murdoch for instance. One could take steps to limit the amount of power the wealthy have in politics- Implementing a party whip system, capping political donations, caps on campaign budgets etc- but can you imagine the rich will allow such reforms?

Is this an existential question, whether all this democracy is real with so much privilege being checked?

Anyway, democracies just exist with economic classes; wealth disparity is nothing new. Sounds like more libertarian hate without any substance, blaming distribution and not understanding A) What caused it in the first place B) Why redistribution would solve nothing and/or C) Why the government is to blame when masses are suffering.

I would vote for a maximum wage with my democracy. I would expect to lose since even poor people have delusions of someday joining the rich while everyone else continues to suffer from a lack of resources/opportunity. Of course that wouldn't fix wealth disparity on the whole since the wealthy do not actually make money but instead live off investments and interest on top of the vast wealth already acquired as opposed to a salary or wages.

Spot1990:
Theoretically we can live in a world where major political decisions aren't made purely with the interests of an elite few in mind, where actual truly equal law applies to all regardless of social or economic standing and all of this despite massive wealth disparity. We can. We don't though.

What this guy said. It's theoretically possible, but it would require some ideal scenario where the richest among us aren't also driven by extreme self interest by and large. In practice I would say it's categorically impossible since the circumstances required to make it happen will almost certainly never exist within any human society as our species stands now.

The Gentleman:
Can it exist? Sure.

Will it be stable enough to last 20 years? Now that is the real question to ask.

The Roman Republic existed for almost 500 years before Caesar and Augustus Caesar took over.

The US Has existed for over 200 years now and we haven't collapsed yet (Not saying it never will, but right now, it hasn't).

Britain's had a Parliamentary Democracy (That mattered) for over 300 Years (After the Glorious Revolution), and although they where plagued by various wars with France and Blitzing Nazis, they haven't fallen yet either.

Obviously Democracy can exist with vast wealth disparity for hundreds of years. Not that that's a completely good thing, but it indeed can...

Revnak:
If society were made up of extremely well educated individuals and nobody used their money to influence others, then sure, but that seems like a pretty crazy world. Otherwise no. Extreme disparity of power of any sort is anathematic to Democracy.

Do you think there's any way to remedy this short of wealth redistribution? A very progressive tax code?

Is democracy important to you, or not really?

lumenaide:
Literally speaking, a democracy does exist with vast wealth disparity (several, in fact). Practically speaking, it's more of a plutocracy.

Well, if it looks like a plutocracy and can be bought like a plutocracy, when does the meaning of the word "democracy" cease to have any meaning? If elections can be bought, does private citizen voting even matter when all their information is carefully controlled by big monied interests?

Bentusi16:
Ayn Rand represents a narrow sect of libertarianism and the woman herself said anyone who didn't stick to her strict definition of libertarianism couldn't be considered a randist.

Oh, come on. She's one of the mothers of the movement. Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Ron Paul can't go 20 words without mentioning her name. I think you once mentioned you're more "religious" than Ayn Rand, but I could be confusing you with one of the many other illustrious posters on the R&P forums. ;)

Stop saying "Is this what liberatarians want" when you're talking about a movement with 20+ ideologies in it and a heavy emphasis on individualism, which further fragments those 20+ ideologies.

Well, at least they'll always be so individualistic and divided that they won't ever achieve real power. That's comforting. The lack of cohesion usually spells lack of influence for a political party. I know in 25 years the Tea Party will be reduced to a horrifying lesson in everything that can go wrong in a representative democracy like ours in history books. It will be a... cautionary tale. ;)

Also: Define democracy.

"A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives." - dictionary.com

My vote may be influenced by money in choosing who gets to run, with certain candidates getting tons of air time and other candidates getting almost none, but I still have the ability to cast a vote. Is that democracy?

I'd say it fits the letter of democracy and not the spirit of democracy. Democracy requires an educated public and if all you're seeing are rich, monied interests when you "educate" yourself you can't make informed decisions and democracy fails.

The Gnome King:

Revnak:
If society were made up of extremely well educated individuals and nobody used their money to influence others, then sure, but that seems like a pretty crazy world. Otherwise no. Extreme disparity of power of any sort is anathematic to Democracy.

Do you think there's any way to remedy this short of wealth redistribution? A very progressive tax code?

Is democracy important to you, or not really?

I really don't think that there is any other method, though there are probably better ways to go about it then by just pulling money straight out and straight giving it to somebody else. Doing things like fully paying for schooling through college without loan debt and lowering the barrier to entry for small businesses is probably something that would help level the playing field without having to just outright say, "the wealthy should have less money because they are enemies of democracy." A very progressive tax code does help though, perhaps one focused taxing wealth rather than income.

The Gnome King:

lumenaide:
Literally speaking, a democracy does exist with vast wealth disparity (several, in fact). Practically speaking, it's more of a plutocracy.

Well, if it looks like a plutocracy and can be bought like a plutocracy, when does the meaning of the word "democracy" cease to have any meaning? If elections can be bought, does private citizen voting even matter when all their information is carefully controlled by big monied interests?

Like I said. Practically speaking, we live in a single, world-spanning Plutocracy. However, so long leadership is decided through (relatively) fair elections, a democracy is what you've got, at least in theory.

The Gnome King:

It's like the opposite of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

You mean sanity, empathy, and basic human emotion? ;P

That aside, I believe that so long as a vast disparity between the classes exists, democracy will either function poorly or not function at all. The middle class is usually a good source for change, even radical and drastic changes at times, but with the way things are going... it's almost looking like a return to the old feudal system of "serfs" and a land owning nobility.

Granted, in most cases I don't think nobles could be -nearly- as smug as some of the people that refer to themselves as "job creators".

I can think of ways for vast wealth disparities to function under democratic systems, though whether those ways are practical is a question I don't think anyone has the data to answer.

However, I don't think the problem is that vast wealth disparities are a threat to democracy. I think the problem is that vast wealth disparities are a threat to free-market capitalism, at least the popular American understanding thereof.

Now that's a notion you don't hear many pundits espousing because they're so wrapped up in ideology that they can't comprehend that low wealth disparity could come about in any other way than communism. But I think it's probably true.

First, because free-market capitalism depends on innovation and entrepreneurship to keep competitive with rival companies/countries. If there is a huge wealth disparity, then eventually you will get a system where there will be a nobility of upper class who can send their children to all the best schools and a much larger lower class who can't. But there's no guarantee that the best ideas will come to that upper class, so all of those lower-class people who can't get the education to pursue their innovative ideas are wasted on dead-end labor.

Secondly, because I don't think history has too many examples of economies that have lasted long-term without dynamism and variety. A vast wealth discrepancy works against that. An economy without a variety of industries is an economy that collapses when the circumstances surrounding it change. But if there's a vast wealth discrepancy in an economy, then that economy is not going to support a variety of industries well. The tiny number of super-wealthy at the top are not going to create enough demand to drive innovations in efficiency, while the huge numbers of poor lower-class at the bottom aren't going to be able to afford much more than their daily necessities. Most societies where you see innovation and development throughout history have tended to be societies with growing middle classes.

The Gnome King:
Is this *really* what world you want to live in, libertarians?

Just out of curiosity. The top 85 "job creators" have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion "moochers" combined. But, that's because they WORK SO HARD, right? And those poor folk... well... just keep trying.

Without the /sarcasm on - this was once a famous quote:

"It also quotes Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, 'We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.'"

It's like the opposite of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Thoughts?

Was Justice Brandeis simply *wrong* ...?

She's right. Freedom and equality seem to be at odds.

Give people freedom and they will generate inequality and unfairness. See: Nagel and this bad boy:

image

Vivi22:
What this guy said. It's theoretically possible, but it would require some ideal scenario where the richest among us aren't also driven by extreme self interest by and large. In practice I would say it's categorically impossible since the circumstances required to make it happen will almost certainly never exist within any human society as our species stands now.

Tons of people are driven by self interest. People donate to and lobby their government for their own interests all the time. What you're complaining about is the result, that the favors and rules bend for the elite. That's not the fault of the wealthy. Blame governments that bend for the few when they're supposed to uphold the law and represent people equally.

The Gnome King:
Well, at least they'll always be so individualistic and divided that they won't ever achieve real power. That's comforting. The lack of cohesion usually spells lack of influence for a political party. I know in 25 years the Tea Party will be reduced to a horrifying lesson in everything that can go wrong in a representative democracy like ours in history books. It will be a... cautionary tale. ;)

The Tea Party is already a cautionary tale against individualistic, independent behavior. You will be obstructed, investigated, intimidated and denied. Disruptions to the establishment and elite agendas will not be tolerated.

With the right kind of regulation and rules it is perfectly possible for such a democracy to exist. For instance over here parties can't advertise on TV or the Radio which puts a limit on how many votes many can get them. Heck before elections there are even bigger restrictions on advertisements.

The only thing we lack are extremely tough penalties on corruptions. The idea of corruptions should make politicians shit their pants out of fear of the potential consequences.

AgedGrunt:

The Gnome King:
Well, at least they'll always be so individualistic and divided that they won't ever achieve real power. That's comforting. The lack of cohesion usually spells lack of influence for a political party. I know in 25 years the Tea Party will be reduced to a horrifying lesson in everything that can go wrong in a representative democracy like ours in history books. It will be a... cautionary tale. ;)

The Tea Party is already a cautionary tale against individualistic, independent behavior. You will be obstructed, investigated, intimidated and denied. Disruptions to the establishment and elite agendas will not be tolerated.

[Citation Required]

Well.... TECHNICALLY democracy COULD exist even with vast wealth disparity. I mean, TECHNICALLY there's nothing saying that people can't vote or speak freely even when vast wealth disparity exists.

In PRACTICE however, no. The extremely wealthy can utilize their resources to pursue corrupt ends, bribe officials, bribe the police and consolidate enormous power. When only a few have extreme amounts of wealth, society tends to bend in their favor. Even the very poor will side against their own interests in the hopes of cozying up to the extremely rich and powerful.

While democracy could technically exist even if there is extremely wealth disparity, in practice it almost never does and it certainly doesn't make things easier for democracy.

The Gnome King:
Is this *really* what world you want to live in, libertarians?

Just out of curiosity. The top 85 "job creators" have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion "moochers" combined. But, that's because they WORK SO HARD, right? And those poor folk... well... just keep trying.

Without the /sarcasm on - this was once a famous quote:

"It also quotes Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, 'We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.'"

It's like the opposite of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Thoughts?

Was Justice Brandeis simply *wrong* ...?

In short, yes you can. It's not so much the basic idea of "democracy" or rather running a representative republic (what we actually are) that is the problem, it's other principles we have riding along with it, among them few if any requirements to vote or run for office.

In principle everyone should have the same opportunity to vote or get elected, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be steps in that process. I personally think some form of public service (military, police, etc...) should be required before your allowed to cast a vote or hold any kind of sway over the election process. Many countries already make doing time in the nation's military a requirement, I don't recommend going that far, by all means let people opt out, but a lack of service means no voice in the government your going to run. To hold office, one should be required to hold a position allowing surveillance and engage in such an activity for X number of years. Basically someone who is going to make decisions for the people should be required to know what the people are like behind closed doors and when they think nobody is around. What's more if the police/military wouldn't trust these people with that kind of clearance they sure as heck shouldn't be in a political position where they can freely gather this kind of information without oversight and more.

The basic idea is that your billionaire and your dude on the street both have to enlist (or get accepted for the police academy) and complete time without facing a discharge before they have a say in anything. They can sit around with a thumb up their butts 24/7 and not wield any power too, but that's their option. Meaning at the end of the day anyone who has a say in anything spent his time manning a picket, or walking a patrol. You might have billions of dollars but you can't donate any of it to anyone, or even endorse a candidate officially if you haven't put in time within an accepted service (civilian or military). I'd rather kick some guy out of the police force for corruption as he develops, than worry about say throwing him out of the Mayor's office or the Senate later, you should see what a person does with that little bit of power before you let them hold any REAL power.

Half the problem with the US is that our only real requirement to vote or run for office is age and brain wave activity. The lack of any other requirements is a big part of why those in the top economic brackets can control
things so easily.

That's my thoughts at any rate, and this is heavily based on things Heinlein wrote over the years.

America, both north and south is a cautionary tale of what extreme lobbyism can do, the United States in particular is quite shocking, unlimited and anonymous super pacs is a strange manner of institutionalised corruption.

As many have said, in theory money and representative democratic government as we have in the west can exist, as long as there is a clear legal separation between money and government.

If legal financial donations should exist, there should at the very least be complete transparency.

There is an argument for wealth equality being a basis for a more democratic government, but that would also have to translate into not only personal wealth being heavily taxed, but also corporate wealth.

nyysjan:
[Citation Required]

I encourage you to actually read the news and follow the Congressional investigation, particularly the part where an official at the heart of the IRS probe originally made refuting statements yet now refuses to cooperate by invoking her 5th amendment rights. There are also published accounts by NPO start-ups that were targeted. Do your own research.

People trying to get fairness- government becomes rich

Capitalism- some people become rich

One can affect the economy the other in limited ways, and controls parts of the government

The other can gun you down, arrest you, and etc

Pick one, and don't tell you pick a third option

No wait a third option..

Religonlist leaders rich-

Now pick one

Revnak:
Doing things like fully paying for schooling through college without loan debt and lowering the barrier to entry for small businesses is probably something that would help level the playing field without having to just outright say, "the wealthy should have less money because they are enemies of democracy." A very progressive tax code does help though, perhaps one focused taxing wealth rather than income.

I fully support taxing wealth, not income! (Or at least, not income until a certain threshold - say, $30,000 or so)

However, realize that even free student loans are a form of wealth redistribution. In order for me to get free student loans (And Goddess, how I wish I could have gotten free student loans - mine cost about $40,000 and I just paid them off) - somebody else would have had to pay higher taxes to subsidize my education, which a lot of conservatives/libertarians absolutely hate the idea of.

It's a better idea than just handing people cash, sure, because education has payoff in spades (usually) - but it's still wealth redistribution. And it's a type I support!

Of course it depends on your definition, but in my view a working "democracy" would not have created such massive wealth disparity in the first place. The fact that we have such disproportionate concentrations of wealth at the top, is actually a sign that democracy has failed to keep in check the interests of the rich over the middle classes and poor. A healthy democracy is supposed to prevent such injustices.

Let me clarify. Democracy does not just include the act of voting. It also means, more than anything, citizen participation in politics and activism. Trade unionism, protests, civil disobedience, you name it. The people aren't able to keep the powers and wealth of the elite in check. People can't secure what they want by voting alone. That is one of the great lies that is fed to people through the corporate disinformation machine. Of course, people are actively punished for participating outside the regulated channels (join a trade union, you're fired, go to an Occupy protest, end up on a government watchlist), so who can blame them? Voting in elections and referendums is considered the only "legitimate" form of political involvement for citizens. Doesn't that tell us something?

Gergar12:
Capitalism- some people become rich

One can affect the economy the other in limited ways, and controls parts of the government

The other can gun you down, arrest you, and etc

If you hold sway over the government with wealth and media influence, you can do all of the above. Become rich enough, and you can get the government to gun down, arrest, and harass people. But, it's not as simple as a few very rich individuals hiring thugs in uniform. No, the system itself is oppressive, in that it's geared towards corporate interests. The power of the capitalist class is not so limited or partial, it's widespread, and corrupts the system in ways that aren't so obvious.

What we have now is a sort of managed democracy; an illusion that the masses have more influence than they actually do. Economic "growth", profit, investors' rights, all take precedence over human dignity, ethics, and environmental concerns.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_totalitarianism

Witty Name Here:

Granted, in most cases I don't think nobles could be -nearly- as smug as some of the people that refer to themselves as "job creators".

Oh, just wait.

I'm waiting for the day the 1% brings back the process of "Prima Nocta" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droit_du_seigneur) - eventually, they will come for our women and we will paint ourselves blue and start a revolution while shouting, "FREEDOM!"

:D

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