March 31, 2018
Written by

New paper on rising inequality and the changing structure of political conflict ( Working Paper 2018/7)

In this new paper (“Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of the Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017)“, Working Paper 2018/7), Thomas Piketty 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).

The paper argues that this can contribute to explain rising inequality and the lack of democratic response to it, as well as the rise of “populism”, as low-income, low-education voters might feel left behind.

The paper 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).

WID.word Working Paper 2018/7. See also Presentation Slides, and Data Appendix.