Skip to content

Tarunabh Khaitan, Political insurance for the (relative) poor: How liberal constitutionalism could resist plutocracy, 8 Glob. Constitutionalism 536 (2019).

Abstract: Fair value of equal political liberties is a key precondition for the legitimacy of a regime in liberal thought. This liberal guarantee is breached whenever a group is permanently or semi-permanently locked out of power. Given the convertibility, subtlety, and resilience of power, gross material inequality – produced by neoliberal economic policies – effectively locks the relative poor out of political power. Such lockout breaches the legitimacy constraint on a liberal constitutional democracy. Neoliberal democracies, sooner or later, become plutocracies. This possibility should concern not only liberal political theory but also liberal constitutionalism. The usual objections to a constitutional concern with gross inequality and plutocracy – based on concerns relating to transparency, counter-majoritarianism and flexibility – are useful design instructions, but do not rule out the constitutionalization of egalitarian and anti-plutocratic norms. A whole panoply of legal and political constitutional measures – already familiar to or incrementally developed from liberal constitutional thought and practice worldwide – could be marshaled to effectively promote material equality and resist plutocracy. These measures – documented to map the possibilities rather than as a manifesto – seek either to prevent material inequality from becoming excessive or to prevent its conversion into political inequality. Good constitutional design, depending on the context, is likely to deploy several tools from both these toolboxes.