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Ancient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science$
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Mirko Canevaro, Andrew Erskine, Benjamin Gray, and Josiah Ober

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474421775

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474421775.001.0001

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Economic (In)Equality and Democracy: The Political Economy of Poverty in Athens

Economic (In)Equality and Democracy: The Political Economy of Poverty in Athens

(p.344) 12 Economic (In)Equality and Democracy: The Political Economy of Poverty in Athens
Ancient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science

Claire Taylor

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter explores the relationship between participatory democracy and poverty in democratic Athens. Drawing on recent debates within Greek history and the social sciences, it examines the relationship between the economic prosperity of Athens and its democratic system, with particular emphasis on the role of direct democracy in the amelioration of poverty. Social scientists have frequently argued that democracy has a greater chance of success in wealthier polities, an idea which appears to have some application to the ancient world: Athens, for example, was undoubtedly affluent, had experienced long-term economic growth, had high wages and robust democratic institutions. However, much of this literature also betrays an anti-democratic/anti-poor rhetoric surprisingly familiar to historians of Athenian democracy (the poor are authoritarian, they lack intelligence, and are only interested in rule for their own redistributive self-interest etc). It also ignores those who are poor, plays down their participation in politics or fails to account for relative (in)equalities. This chapter, therefore, uses the Athenian experience to explore how participatory democracy can be used as a tool for social flourishing to empower, enrich and improve the capabilities and well-being of the poor.

Keywords:   Poverty, Athenian democracy, participatory democracy

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