Bengaluru: Across the world, income inequality is a burning issue. In theory, this inequality should result in class-based politics. Instead, globally and especially in the West, there has been a rise in identity-based politics and populism. According to French economist Thomas Piketty, this is so, because of the emergence of new political cleavages.
In a paper published earlier this year for the World Inequality Database, Piketty suggests that the traditional parties of the left in the US, Britain and France, no longer represent the working class. Analysing post-electoral survey data from national elections of the three countries during 1948-2017, he shows that the voter base for socialist-labour-democratic or ‘left’ parties has, over time, shifted from lower education and lower income voters, to higher educated voters. In contrast, the ‘right’ parties have always been supported by high-income and high-wealth voters.
Piketty references the Indian caste system to classify this new ‘multiple-elite party system’ as the Brahmin left (representing the intellectual elite) and the merchant right (representing the business elite). In this new version of the left, low education and low income voters feel abandoned, contributing to populism’s growth.
According to Piketty, the emergence of the Brahmin left has occurred because of globalization, migration and increased education—all of which have created new dimensions of inequality and weakened previous class-based coalitions. Piketty is unsure about the stability of multiple-elite party systems, but highlights the difficulty in uniting low-education, low-income voters from all origins within the same party.
The findings also pose important questions for India. Unlike the US, Britain and France, India has relatively little exposure to migration, but is there a similar ‘multiple-elite party system’ emerging?
Also read: Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017)