For richer, for poorer: The political power marriage

By Bao Gangsheng
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 29, 2013
Adjust font size:

The fundamental principle of democracy is that the minority is subordinate to the majority, thereby ensuring that the majority carries the day as far as decision-making is concerned. The question is, is this decision-making ability tempered by any limitations?

Let’s take two hypothetical examples: During a party held at a luxury venue, eight civilians voted in favor of the proposition that two rich people should pay for all party expenses. Is this decision reasonable? To many, it may not seem so.

Next, a country of 100 million voters, of which 80 million are medium-and-low-income earners and the rest are rich, vote in favor of a referendum proposal to levy progressive income tax and property tax from the wealthy people. Is this reasonable? The answer is far from straightforward, yet many countries face just such a scenario.

The above examples cut to the core issue of modern democracy: Which affairs should be decided by democratic means and which should not? Is there any limit to the democratic decision-making process and scope? These questions are directly related to whether or not a society can achieve efficient governance by democracy.

All policies related to property and revenue are crucial points of debate in modern politics, and they provoke major conflict between society’s haves and have-nots. Those in the high-income brackets prefer economic freedom and looser reallocation policies, while people in medium-and-low-income brackets advocate government intervention and tighter reallocation policies.

In light of this, it is essential to balance the interests of the general public and the elite. The political sovereignty and participation of the public should be guaranteed, and a certain level of influence from the elite should also be ensured, otherwise the potential class struggle may threaten democratic stability and cause social chaos.

Today, most voters in European countries and the U.S. have reached a key political compromise: The general public has agreed to drop political proposals which demand the socialization of property rights and reallocation of properties in the political proposals. For their part, the wealthy elite has accepted policies regarding progressive tax and transfer payments.

Shortly after the United States of America was established in 1776, the U.S. government took measures to ensure a balance of power between the general populace and the elite. The initial regulations in the constitution regarding presidential elections, the setting of Senate, the indirect election of senators, the setting of the Supreme Court and the arrangement of judicial review, were attempts to reign in the power and influence of the elite when it came to framing political proposals. These practices are regarded by many thinkers as the key to keep its republican system stable in the long term.

Class politics is one of the main characteristics of modern politics and the question of how to quell and prevent conflict between the rich and the poor is a challenge facing all emerging, transitional countries, especially those where the divide between the rich and the poor is greatest. The political fate of all modern countries is inextricably linked to dealing effectively with this problem.

The author is a lecturer from the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University.

This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Xu Lin.

Opinion articles reflect the views of the authors, not necessarily those of

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from