Vanderbilt Law Review


Neil W. Netanel

First Page



If trends of the past two decades persist, a vast inequality of wealth may well become a fundamental, defining characteristic of political and social life in many Western democracies, particularly the United States.' Among its potentially pernicious effects, massive wealth disparity threatens the integrity of the democratic process. Liberal democracy aspires to political equality, which demands that opportunities to acquire and assert political power be widespread and broadly distributed. Political equality does not require economic equality. But political equality may be undermined by severe disparities of wealth. Absent preventive regulation, private wealth buys political power. It enables those with greater private means to exercise a disproportionate influence over legislation and to steer the course of public debate. For that reason, substantial inequalities of wealth may prove fundamentally incompatible with liberal democratic governance.