World Politics

Research Article

Inequality and Discontent: A Nonlinear Hypothesis

Jack Nagela1*

a1 Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy Analysis at the University of Pennsylvania

At least since Aristotle, theorists have believed that political dis-content and its consequents—protest, instability, violence, revolution—depend not only on the absolute level of economic well-being, but also on the distribution of wealth. Contemporary political analysts have tried to test this ancient assumption using modern statistical methods. Their results are distressingly confusing. One cross-national investigation finds the commonsensical positive linear relation: the more the inequality, the greater the instability. A second study purports to show the opposite relation in the important case of South Vietnam: the greater the inequality, the less the support for revolution. And a third analysis, also of South Vietnam, detects no relation at all between inequality and rebellion.

Jack H. Nagel is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy Analysis at the University of Pennsylvania. His book, The Descriptive Analysis of Power, will be published in 1975. He plans to continue investigating the relativity of evaluation and its implications for political satisfaction and discontent.

* I am greatly indebted to Dennis Paranzino, who provided data cards, ran preliminary tests of the principal hypothesis as applied to Vietnam, and, in frequent conversations, offered many useful suggestions, both substantive and methodological. I am also grateful to Robert Inman and Ralph Ginsberg for helpful advice on statistical questions. This research was partially supported by a summer grant from the Fels Center of Government.