Rising Powers: Social Inequality and Political Instability?
Europe (Central and Eastern)
Russia and China are the two largest and most powerful members of the BRICs group and among the most important members of the international community as a whole. On Goldman Sachs projections China will be the world’s largest economy by 2050, and Russia its sixth largest. But they are also two of the world’s most unequal countries, measured by Gini coefficients or in other ways (China, for instance, has the world’s second-largest number of billionaires, according to Forbes magazine; Russia has its third-largest).
It is one of the oldest findings of political science that there is an association between economic inequality of this kind and political instability. As Aristotle pointed out in his Politics, 'when men are equal they are contented'; accordingly, 'democracy appears to be safer and less liable to revolution than oligarchy'. Concerns of this kind have been apparent in many later writers, including John Stuart Mill, who provided in his Representative Government for additional votes for those who exercised 'superior [managerial] functions' on the reasonable assumption that the poor would otherwise use their electoral preponderance to put through 'class legislation'.
In this section proposal we focus on issues of this kind in Russia and China, drawing on a larger ESRC-sponsored ‘Rising Powers’ programme in which most of the participants have been directly involved. We give particular attention to the ways in which ● both countries have been becoming increasingly unequal; ● within them, political power and economic advantage have become increasingly associated; and ● their political systems have increasingly been employed to ensure that no effective challenge can be mounted to that combination of government position and economic advantage, either by 'ballot box' or other avenues. Set within a broader comparative perspective, we hypothesise that an increasingly unequal society in which government is effectively immune from conventional challenge is likely to become increasingly repressive, or unstable, or both (with considerable implications for the international community as a whole).
We propose a sequence of (at least) four panels in exploration of these themes aiming as far as possible to engage cross-national as well as country-specific issues and to engage scholars from the countries themselves as well as Western specialists. We will also be aiming to deploy a variety of evidence and methodologies – aggregate data, survey data, focus groups and elite interviews in particular. Our primary emphasis is on Russia and China, but we will be seeking additional contributions that relate to the other BRICs and engage with a much broader comparative literature.
SHORT BIOGRAPHIES OF THE COCONVENORS
Stephen White is James Bryce Professor of Politics at the University of Glasgow, and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Applied Politics in Moscow. His recent publications include Developments in Central and East European Politics 5 (Palgrave and Duke, 2013), Developments in Russian Politics 8 (with others, Palgrave and Duke 2014), and Foreign Policy and Identity in the Wider Europe (with Valentina Feklyunina, Palgrave 2014). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2010.
Jane Duckett is Edward Caird Chair of Politics at the University of Glasgow and Guest Professor at Nankai University in Tianjin. Her recent publications include The Chinese State’s Retreat from Health: Policy and the Politics of Retrenchment (Routledge, 2011), and China’s Changing Welfare Mix: Local Perspectives (with Beatriz Carrillo, Routledge 2011). She is Director of the Scottish Centre for China Research and the Confucius Institute at the University of Glasgow.