Democracy undermined - power and inequality

My Fair London activist Andrew Roberts reports on a lecture by anthropologist Dr Dena Freeman at LSE on 21 March 2017

The dynamics of Democracy and Inequality in the context of Globalisation

In this lecture Dr Freeman examined the relationship between democracy and inequality, adding to a number of other explanations which have been given for the rise of inequality since the 1970s.

The work of Thomas Piketty has shown how inequality declined in the 20th century until the 1970s and then rose again.  Some academics argue that the decline was in fact anomalous and that rising inequality is part of the normal run of things in capitalism. But others cite economic and technological changes since the 1970s: for example, in the former category, globalisation and, in the latter, technological advancements that create inequalities between the skilled and unskilled.

Dr Freeman focused on the relationship between democracy and inequality.  She highlighted a puzzle: the idea that greater democracy should lead to greater equality, a venerable idea for which there is a solid theoretical foundation, doesn’t seem to have held good since the 1970s. 

Her explanation for this is that there has in fact been a process of de-democratisation at play. Examples include the handing over monetary policy to a central bank, the role of undemocratic organisations like the World Bank in constraining states’ economic policy, the power wielded by credit rating agencies; all these bodies have enforced a neoliberal economic agenda which, says Dr Freeman, operates in the interests of capital and not society as a whole.  

Londoners should be concerned by the issues of de-democratisation as they relate to inequality that are raised by Dr Freeman.  The gap between rich and poor is at its widest in the capital, and The Spirit Level has explained how damaging high levels of inequality are for society, with a high social cost.  If there is room for any optimism, it may be that Londoners’ ability to elect a mayor represents a countervailing force, as long as he is able to stand up to the anti-democratic interests of big business and global capital. My Fair London campaigns for the mayor to use his powers to act to reduce inequality and to speak out about the harm that inequality does to society.

There is a podcast of Dr Freeman's lecture on the link below:

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