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Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict

Thomas Piketty ()

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Abstract: Using post-electoral surveys from France, Britain and the US, this paper documents a striking long-run evolution in the structure of political cleavages. In the 1950s-1960s, the vote for left-wing (socialist-labour-democratic) parties was associated with lower education and lower income voters. It has gradually become associated with higher education voters, giving rise to a "multiple-elite" party system in the 2000s-2010s: high-education elites now vote for the "left", while high-income/high-wealth elites still vote for the "right" (though less and less so). I argue that this can contribute to explain rising inequality and the lack of democratic response to it, as well as the rise of "populism". I also discuss the origins of this evolution (rise of globalization/migration cleavage, and/or educational expansion per se) as well as future prospects: "multiple-elite" stabilization; complete realignment of the party system along a "globalists" (high-education, high-income) vs "nativists" (low-education, low-income) cleavage; return to class-based redistributive conflict (either from an internationalist or nativist perspective). Two main lessons emerge. First, with multi-dimensional inequality, multiple political equilibria and bifurcations can occur. Next, without a strong egalitarian-internationalist platform, it is difficult to unite low-education, low-income voters from all origins within the same party.

Keywords: Political cleavages; United States; United Kingdom; Britain; France; Inequality (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://hal-pse.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02878211
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Working Paper: Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (2018) Downloads
Working Paper: Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (2018) Downloads
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