Social mobility and stability of democracy: Reevaluating de Tocqueville

Daron Acemoglu, Georgy Egorov, Konstantin Sonin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


An influential thesis often associated with de Tocqueville views socialmobility as a bulwark of democracy: whenmembers of a social group expect to join the ranks of other social groups in the near future, they should have less reason to exclude these other groups from the political process. In this article, we investigate this hypothesis using a dynamic model of political economy. As well as formalizing this argument, our model demonstrates its limits, elucidating a robust theoretical force making democracy less stable in societies with high social mobility: when the median voter expects to move up (respectively down), she would prefer to give less voice to poorer (respectively richer) social groups. Our theoretical analysis shows that in the presence of social mobility, the political preferences of an individual depend on the potentially conflicting preferences of her "future selves," and that the evolution of institutions is determined through the implicit interaction between occupants of the same social niche at different points in time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1041-1105
Number of pages65
JournalQuarterly Journal of Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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