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Social Mobility and Stability of Democracy: Re-Evaluating De Toqueville

74 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2016  

Daron Acemoglu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Georgy Egorov

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management; NBER

Konstantin Sonin

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies; Higher School of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: March 15, 2016

Abstract

An influential thesis often associated with De Tocqueville views social mobility as a bulwark of democracy: when members of a social group expect to join the ranks of other social groups in the near future, they should have less reason to exclude these other groups from the political process. In this paper, we investigate this hypothesis using a dynamic model of political economy. As well as formalizing this argument, our model demonstrates its limits, elucidating a robust theoretical force making democracy less stable in societies with high social mobility: when the median voter expects to move up (respectively down), she would prefer to give less voice to poorer (respectively richer) social groups. Our theoretical analysis shows that in the presence of social mobility, the political preferences of an individual depend on the potentially conflicting preferences of her “future selves,” and that the evolution of institutions is determined through the implicit interaction between occupants of the same social niche at different points in time. When social mobility is endogenized, our model identifies new political economic forces limiting the amount of mobility in society — because the middle class will lose out from mobility at the bottom and because a peripheral coalition between the rich and the poor may oppose mobility at the top.

Keywords: Social mobility, institutions, stability, democracy, De Tocqueville, dynamics

JEL Classification: D71, D74

Suggested Citation

Acemoglu, Daron and Egorov, Georgy and Sonin, Konstantin, Social Mobility and Stability of Democracy: Re-Evaluating De Toqueville (March 15, 2016). MIT Department of Economics Working Paper No. 16-03. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2759939

Daron Acemoglu (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Georgy Egorov

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

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Evanston, IL 60208
United States

NBER ( email )

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United States

Konstantin Sonin

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Higher School of Economics ( email )

20 Myasnitskaya street
Moscow, 119017
Russia

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

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