Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Inequality and Growth in Historical Perspective

MIT Economics Working Paper No. 97-23

34 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 1998

See all articles by Daron Acemoglu

Daron Acemoglu

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

James A. Robinson

Harvard University - Department of Government; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: November 1997

Abstract

During the nineteenth century, most Western societies extended the franchise, a decision which led to unprecedented redistributive programs. We argue that these political reforms can be viewed as strategic decisions by political elites to prevent widespread social unrest and revolution. Political transition, rather than redistribution under existing political institutions, occurs because current transfers do not ensure future transfers, while the extension of the franchise changes the future political equilibrium and acts as a commitment to future redistribution. Our theory offers a novel explanation for the Kuznets curve, whereby the fall in inequality follows redistribution due to democratization. We characterize the conditions under which an economy experiences the development path associated with the Kuznets curve, as opposed to two non-democratic paths; an `autocratic disaster', with high inequality and low output; and an `East Asian Miracle', with low inequality and high output.

JEL Classification: D72, O15

Suggested Citation

Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A., Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Inequality and Growth in Historical Perspective (November 1997). MIT Economics Working Paper No. 97-23. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=55157 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.55157

Daron Acemoglu (Contact Author)

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

50 Memorial Drive
Room E52-380b
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-1927 (Phone)
617-253-1330 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

James A. Robinson

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2839 (Phone)
617-495-8292 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
742
rank
30,676
Abstract Views
3,926
PlumX