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    Things can’t only get better : inequality and democracy over a life-span

    Albertson, Kevin ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6678-5590 and Whittle, Richard (2022) Things can’t only get better : inequality and democracy over a life-span. In: The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Inequalities and the Life Course. Routledge International Handbooks . Routledge, Abingdon & New York, NY, pp. 208-222. ISBN 9781138601505 (hardback); 9780429470059 (ebook)

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    In any reasonable stable socio-economic system, history indicates even minor inequalities in people’s wealth and power will become exacerbated over time. This is a problem under which all socio-political paradigms suffer. In the following, we consider the impact of free-market-based capitalism on inequality in the context of a (more or less) democratic governance structure. By its very nature, capitalism requires the possession by some of – and the dispossession of many from – the means to create income and wealth. If capitalism is to be associated with a general improvement of citizen’s quality of life, the exclusive power of capitalists must be balanced by countervailing power; for example the political power of citizens exercised through democratically accountable government. The extension of the right to vote in many (so-called) developed countries is associated historically with declining inequality. Conversely, the adoption of free-market governance, as promoted by neo-liberal ideology, has reduced democratic accountability, by limiting the policy options available, and is associated with increasing inequality. We conclude that, given ongoing financial, medical and technical instability, global free markets must be constrained by increasing democratic accountability.

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