Democracy, Populism, and Concentrated Interests


Concentrated interest groups have a significant advantage over diffuse interest groups: they can effectively stop free riding among their members. Because of this advantage, concentrated interest groups work in unison and manage to capture the government in many democracies. Democratic mechanisms of separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law are designed to prevent the capture of government by concentrated interests. Under certain conditions, these mechanisms make it possible for diffuse interests to have a fair share of the influence over the government. Populist ideologists doubt that claim, however. They are convinced that democracies are captured by a small elite that controls most of the political power. The declared aim of populists is to give political power back to the majority of society. Despite that declared aim, this Article argues that the actions taken by populists have exactly the opposite outcome. By downgrading democratic mechanisms that constrain the government, populists end up making it easier for concentrated interests to capture the government and take advantage of diffuse groups

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This paper was published in Loyola Marymount University.

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