Smarter, richer people make better Democracy, but what does that mean for U.S.?

The fact that both democracy and capitalism are under attack in the the United States and around the world shouldn’t be surprising.

Why? Because one arises from the other. According to the men who brought us Freakonomics, a new study of cultures from around the world shows that capitalism begets democracy.

Their initial question is an inspired one: Does democracy make a society smarter and richer or is it the other way around?

Mathew Phillips, the author of this post, appropriately calls it the chicken and the egg problem.

What Phillips goes on to explain is that in societies where people become more educated and the capitalist process becomes more productive, democracy tends to become stronger.

Egypt is a modern testament to the power of a growing population of a young, educated populous demanding freedom.

Education tends to be more strongly correlated to the quality of political institutions, although per capita GDP is also tied in a similar, linear fashion.

The question this poses, to me at least, is what happens when education and income inequalities grow as we’ve seen in the United States?

This study only measures GDP, not concentration of wealth or education.

Will our political institutions falter if a growing segment of our population are less educated and less wealthy, but total education levels and wealth rises among a single class of people?

The latter example is much like the situation Plato outlines in his classical work The Republic where a class of people are trained from birth to rule, or farm or perform any task for that matter.

Plato’s example has been invoked by political philosophers for literally thousands of years as a sort of Utopia where everyone has a function in society and is happy to perform it.

Given that wealth is only a weak indicator of political change and that education is a significantly more precise predictor of structural improvement, it’s helpful that this study does take into account the concentration of education.

Measured in the study is the total population of people 15 and older, meaning an inequality in education would be measured.

With a burgeoning population of poor families, particularly of racial minorities – a disproportionately under-educated segment of the population – is it possible the United States could regress in terms of the quality of its political structures?

Or is that something we’re already seeing with the failures in government for the last decade?

Liberals might argue that education level increases are why we’re seeing a rise in the push for a more socialistic government?

Hardcore conservatives will certainly reject the idea that socialism is the logical progression from democracy in modern society.

Given the current divisiveness of political discourse, global financial and political unrest, do these numbers tell us anything about civility or peace in society?

It doesn’t appear so, since many of the places where education and wealth have increased and government has gotten better, there is no peace (France, Spain and Greece being perfect examples).

While it may be that in emerging countries, where the majority of the population was uneducated or there was some power authoritarian government, that this study makes sense.

But in modern countries, the Democracy scores have tended to stay flat over the last century except in Scandinavian countries.

Particularly in the United States where our per capita GDP rose an average amount and our average education rate increased a below average amount, our democracy score remained stagnant.

There was neither an increase nor a decrease in the quality of our political structures. That seems almost impossible. Given the increases in access to information and technology, no increase has to be considered a net loss since our political structures have clearly fallen behind the advancement of our society.

I guess that leaves us with a serious question: If our government hasn’t improved much over the last century despite major advances elsewhere, where do we go from here?

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