Year: 2004
Working paper number: 060
Author: Seekings, Jeremy
Unit: DARU

Democracy is widely recognised as important for redistribution, and cultural diversity is often considered inimical to democracy (although astute institutional design might be able to deal with the problem).  Does cultural diversity affect redistribution, not simply through impeding democracy but also perhaps through defining acceptable limits of social or economic solidarity?  This paper compares three 'new democracies': South Africa, Brazil and Nigeria.  The South African case suggests that an extraordinary level of denial of economic solidarity, due to cultural diversity, can co-exist with accompany an exceptional level of redistribution from rich to poor.  If there is a substantial overlap between class and cultural group (race, in the South African case) then cultural diversity might strengthen feelings of defensive cross-class and cross-group solidarity among the rich, making a redistributive compromise more likely than in a more culturally homogeneous setting.  Brazil illustrates this latter possibility: less cultural heterogeneity accompanied by less solidarity and less redistribution.  Elites (and non-elite vested interests) are unwilling and the poor are unable (i.e. lack the power) to secure a redistributive compromise.  Brazilian society is not culturally homogeneous, but the politicisation of its cultural differences and the weakness of egalitarian solidarities are the products rather than the cause of Brazil's institutional design. Nigeria is a case where cultural diversity might appear to underpin the powerlessness of the poor and the limited reach of democracy.  But a closer inspection suggests that institutional design and the political economy of oil might have more of an effect than cultural diversity per se.  The conclusions are that any effects that cultural diversity might have on egalitarian policies are highly conditional on a range of other factors, and that federal institutional design is a crucial factor undermining redistributive politics and policies.

Publication file: wp60.pdf