The Corruption of Liberal and Social Democracies

By Timothy K. Kuhner
April 30, 2016


Thomas Piketty repeats throughout Capital in the Twenty-First Century that today’s levels of inequality are not inevitable, much less natural, and has connected the state of democracy worldwide to rising economic inequality.  Wealth transfers from the state to the private sector, wealth transfers from labor to capital, and tax laws favorable to the concentration of wealth require that the participatory and representative facets of democracy be kept in check.  Beyond suitable material conditions, the growth and maintenance of inequality necessitates a justificatory ideology.  This Article explores the possibility that the laws of political finance can help connect the dots.  Legal patterns in the financing of campaigns and political parties point to two distinct forms of oligarchy in play:  plutocracy, representing the decay of liberal democracy, and partyocracy, representing the decay of social democracy.  Together, these legal forms of corruption appear to have co-opted democracy’s values and outputs, paving the way for neoliberalism.  This Article focuses on plutocracy, the form of corruption most affecting the United States at present.