Democracy and inequality as a global foreign policy agenda

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
February 11, 2019

[The below text is a short memo I presented for a workshop on a left-liberal financial foreign policy for the US last week.]

The US left is starting to come to grips with the relationship between democracy and inequality. This builds on a variety of academic work over the last several years – most prominently Thomas Piketty’s book, but also work by other academics such as Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman – which maps the growth in wealth and income inequality across rich countries, and how marked it has been in market-liberal countries such as the US. But these are no longer academic debates: they are being taken up by politicians within the Democratic party, creating a new dynamic of intra-party competition. Proposals by left-leaning politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not only notable in themselves, but in how they are shifting the center of gravity, so that more centrist politicians too are taking them up.

To date, most of the political attention has been on the domestic aspects of income inequality. What discussion of global trends there has been has focused on the fact that global inequality is falling as some developing countries catch up. I identify an alternative set of empirical findings that highlight how global networks shape patterns of inequality in the US and elsewhere. I argue that these findings have crucial implications for how we think (a) of inequality within the US, and (b) for the corrosive impact of inequality on democracy elsewhere. Finally, I suggest that there is an important policy agenda that might take up this work, and use it to start to reshape global structures so as to shore up and promote democracy.

Read the full piece at Crooked Timber.