This article investigates the effects of economic inequality on legislative agendas. It considers two competing hypotheses: (1) that policymakers will act to counter rising inequality by renewing their focus on redistributive social policies, and (2) that rising inequality makes legislative agendas especially vulnerable to the influence of economic elites, and that these elites will attempt to keep redistributive social policies off the agenda. Empirical tests, which are designed to arbitrate between these hypotheses, use data on public laws and parliamentary bills introduced in the legislatures of nine European countries between 1941 and 2014. The evidence is supportive of the second hypothesis: as inequality becomes more acute, European legislative agendas become systematically less diverse and this narrowing of attention is driven by a migration away from social safety-net issues toward issues relating to law enforcement, immigration, and national defense. . . .From what I can tell the effect is not very large, but it seems to be real and robust. I do wonder if the effect is mainly driven by the extraordinary period after World War II, when welfare states were built in countries that were highly equal mainly from the effects of the war; I couldn't tease that out from the data.
Thus, our findings are consistent with theories that economic inequality is a particularly difficult problem for democratic governments to solve.
Via Marginal Revolutions