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Turns Out That Democracy Does Have a Price

Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Barcelona recently explored the price required for people to surrender their life in a democratic society and be prepared to live in a country without free elections.

Sticker declaring 'I Voted'

The findings were published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It transpires that there is a monetary value at which people would surrender their democratic rights - but the good news is that its reassuringly high.

The researchers surveyed 2,000 people from the U.S., France, and Brazil. So, 6,000 in total. The researchers were particularly interested in the relationship between personal incomes and the presence or absence of democratic elections.

Participants from France and the U.S., whose countries have both hosted free and fair elections for over two centuries, required salary raises of 236 percent and 219 percent, respectively, to choose to live in a non-democratic society over a democratic one. Participants from Brazil, whose country only returned to democracy in 1988, needed a 168 percent pay hike to give up the right to vote - a little less, but still considerable.

To put a dollar value on these percentages, the average American would therefore need to make $230,000 annually to choose to live in an authoritarian society rather than a democratic one.

This, say the researchers, counters the prevailing media and societal narrative that democracy is endangered. As the authors say: "Growing political polarization and the rise of populist parties in various parts of the world have raised substantial concerns about the attachment of citizens to democracy and the durability of liberal institutions. To estimate the value that citizens give to democracy relative to income and other features of society, we field survey experiments in Brazil, France, and the United States asking respondents to choose among different alternative societies. Although we find that all countries harbor a minority with authoritarian preferences, having democratic institutions strongly trumps all other considerations in determining the optimal society for an overwhelming majority of citizens. It is therefore difficult to conclude that democracy is fundamentally in crisis, at least at the public opinion level."


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