Why and how systems of political financing and representation in Europe and North America give outsized influence to the wealthy and undermine democracy, and what we can do about it.
One person, one vote. In theory, everyone in a democracy has equal power to decide elections. But it’s hardly news that, in reality, political outcomes are heavily determined by the logic of one dollar, one vote. We take the political power of money for granted. But does it have to be this way? In The Price of Democracy, Julia Cagé combines economic and historical analysis with political theory to show how profoundly our systems in North America and Europe, from think tanks and the media to election campaigns, are shaped by money. She proposes fundamental reforms to bring democracy back into line with its egalitarian promise.
Cagé shows how different countries have tried to develop legislation to curb the power of private money and to develop public systems to fund campaigns and parties. But these attempts have been incoherent and unsystematic. She demonstrates that it is possible to learn from these experiments in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere to design a better system that would increase political participation and trust. This would involve setting a strict cap on private donations and creating a public voucher system to give each voter an equal amount to spend in support of political parties. More radically, Cagé argues that a significant fraction of seats in parliamentary assemblies should be set aside for representatives from disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.
At a time of widespread political disenchantment, The Price of Democracy is a bracing reminder of the problems we face and an inspirational guide to the potential for reform.
A deeply researched account of how states regulate campaign finance…Cagé emphasizes the injustice of a situation in which the poor end up subsidizing the political preferences of the rich, who tend to be much more conservative when it comes to economic policies…An important contribution that tackles one of the root problems of democracies in the West.
Julia Cagé has taken the critical step of identifying and documenting plutocratic campaign funding as a devastating threat to democracy internationally. She is unafraid to point out that liberal and progressive parties in many countries are co-opted by the lack of contribution and expenditure limits. This usually leads all the leading parties in a given country to effectively ignore glaring income inequalities. As she forcefully argues, encouraging democracy vouchers or other forms of public financing of campaigns is ultimately the best and perhaps only way to address this threat. This is a valuable book for reformers anywhere.
It’s been clear for years that the US campaign finance system is broken. Big ideas and action are needed. The Price of Democracy brings a sweeping global perspective to one of the most intractable problems of our times. Cagé shows what has and hasn’t worked around the world—but goes beyond that to propose a set of new and innovative approaches.
The Price of Democracy is an overdue look at the global challenge that big money poses in democratic governments. It advances a sobering and grounded assessment of the alarming role of money in the world’s democracies and the often checkered history of reform. Through it all, however, the book sounds notes of level-headed optimism, rooted in the author’s careful look at some of the boldest political reform proposals I’ve seen in print: from democracy vouchers to regulations on political parties to reserved seats for underrepresented social classes in political institutions. This book is truly at the leading edge of good government reform and is a must-read for people who care about the future of democracy around the world.
What ails democracy across the world? Julia Cagé’s magisterial analysis uncovers the root cause in the intertwining of money and politics in an age of massive inequality, showing how the wealthy purchase influence and undermine the core democratic principle of ‘one person, one vote.’ With a slate of creative and bold proposals for reform, The Price of Democracy blazes a path forward. Here is a playbook for progressive politicians and citizens.
- 464 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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