chapter  1
24 Pages

Territorial Institutions, Inequality, and Redistribution: Introduction and Overview

If Harold Lasswell’s (1950) definition of politics-who gets what, when and how-is correct, then inequality and distribution are central concerns of political science. This book uses the lens of political institutions to evaluate the role of income inequality in national politics. The central question of the book is: how do political institutions structure government responses to inequality? My answer is that political institutions influence what notions of inequality (interpersonal or interregional) are salient in the political system through the electoral incentives they provide to politicians. These incentives shape how political parties address inequality and whether national constituencies interested in redistribution are able to organize effectively to pass legislation against opposition. Political institutions have long had a place in explanations of redistributive policy outcomes around the world. These works have demonstrated variance across political institutions on whether the majority of poor individuals are able to use their numerical advantage to advance redistribution. In this book, I consider whether the region, in addition to the individual, is an appropriate unit for evaluating political interests and constituencies. My primary contribution is the inclusion of political geography in both the theory and measurement of distributive pressures, institutional effects, and distributive policy outcomes in national politics. To add to Lasswell’s quote, I examine who gets what, when, how, and where. Previous research has shown that certain institutions (especially federalism, majoritarian elections and presidentialism) appear to work against fiscal redistribution and other proactive government responses to income inequality. Among the variety of reasons this may be is that each of these institutions privileges geographic regions in the political distributive game. Three primary mechanisms that link region-centered institutions to lower levels of redistribution are central to my analysis. First, geographically designed political constituencies incentivize politicians to deliver local public goods above social goods targeted to low income individuals. Second, political institutions structured around geography tend to separate power and protect minority interests. Institutions that divide power have the effect of fragmenting the majority and empowering minorities, especially rich individuals and rich regions opposed to redistribution. Third, the two previous mechanisms, regional constituencies and separation of power, contribute to decentralizing and fragmenting party cohesion and organization.