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The Paradox of Free Market Democracy: Rethinking Development Policy, 41 Harvard International Law Journal 287 (2000)


Markets and democracy are the twin pillars of prevailing development orthodoxy. Many have explored the ways-"theoretical, historical, and empirical"-in which these two pillars are said to reinforce each other. By contrast, this Article will focus on an inherent instability in free market democracy.

For a long time, leading political philosophers and economists held that market capitalism and democracy could coexist, if at all, only in fundamental tension with one another. Markets would produce enormous concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few, while democracy, by empowering the poor majority, would inevitably lead to convulsive acts of expropriation and confiscation. In Adam Smith's words, "For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor .... The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions." Madison warned against the "danger" to the rights of property posed by "an equality & universality of suffrage, vesting compleat power over property in hands without a share in it." David Ricardo was willing to extend suffrage only "to that part of [the people] which cannot be supposed to have any interest in overturning the rights of property." Thomas Babington Macaulay went further, portraying universal suffrage as "incompatible with property" and "consequently incompatible with civilization." From this point of view, free market democracy is a paradox, a contradiction in terms.

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