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Has the middle secured its share of growth or been squeezed?

posted on 2020-02-20, 09:50 authored by Brian Nolan, David Weisstanner

In striking contrast to the notion that democracy is under threat because ‘the middle’ has been ‘squeezed’ over recent decades, Iversen and Soskice (2019) in their book, Democracy and Prosperity, present an optimistic account about the future of democracy. This paper examines their key assumption that the symbiosis between democracy and advanced capitalism is underpinned by electorally decisive middle-class voters that secure a constant share of economic growth. Using comprehensive data on income trends, it is shown that this claim does not stand up to scrutiny: median income has often lagged behind the mean in household surveys, rather than kept pace with it as Iversen and Soskice claim. Strong real income growth has generally not compensated the middle for lagging behind. The varying fortunes of the middle in securing its share of economic growth have implications for the broader debate about inequality and democracy.