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Regular version of the site

Article

Social Mobility and Stability of Democracy: Re-evaluating de Tocqueville

Quarterly Journal of Economics. 2018. Vol. 133. No. 2. P. 1041-1105.
Acemoglu D., Egorov G., Sonin K.

An influential thesis often associated with de Tocqueville views socialmobility
as a bulwark of democracy: whenmembers 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 article, 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.