Studies in different Western countries have documented that policy output tends to align better with the preferences of richer citizens than poorer ones.

However, to what extent there is a pro-wealth bias in policymaking and what might drive it is hotly debated.

Building on these strands of literature, this project studies a novel mechanism behind the reproduction of wealth: that politicians contribute to the reproduction of wealth by adopting policies biased towards the wealthy; and that they do so by virtue of being connected to pro-wealth interests through their social and economic characteristics. 

The study involves a comparative analysis that spans countries of the Global North and the Global South and employs two complementary empirical strategies: a quantitative analysis of 50 countries, and in-depth studies in four countries (Brazil, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom). The research focuses on:

  1. “Wealth policies” such as tax policies (e.g., top income taxes) and sectoral policies especially financial deregulation, that directly benefit companies’ profits and top incomes. 
  2. Politicians’ “social characteristics” (e.g., parental background, education) that shape their worldview towards pro-wealth policies.
  3. The “economic characteristics” of politicians that can generate financial interests akin to the elite. 

The policy implications of these channels are different. The “worldview” channel calls upon improving the descriptive representation of politicians with working-class backgrounds. The “financial interest” channel calls for transparency and regulation of items such as investment portfolios and board memberships of politicians.

The project’s major novelty is to systematically study the whole causal chain from politician characteristics and networks to wealth-relevant policies and thereby to the reproduction of wealth.

Such an analysis has not been carried out in the literature.

This project will commence in November 2023. It is a partnership between Philipps-University Marburg (Germany); University of Strathclyde (Scotland); FGV São Paulo Law School (Brazil); and ACEIR, University of Cape Town (South Africa), and with the financial support from the VW Foundation.