Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

Larry Bartels shows the gap between the rich and poor has increased greatly under Republican administrations and decreased slightly under Democrats, leaving America grossly unequal.

This is not simply the result of economic forces, but the product of broad-reaching policy choices in a political system dominated by partisan ideologies and the interests of the wealthy.Bartels demonstrates that elected officials respond to the views of affluent constituents but ignore the views of poor people.

He shows that Republican presidents in particular have consistently produced much income growth for middle-class and working-poor families than for affluent families, greatly increasing inequality.

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He uses data and regression analysis to show that income inequality grows during Republican presidencies and rich people have more influence on how representatives vote. Bartels attempts to show why these seemingly nonsensical and non-constituent maximizing political results happen by highlighting the effects of information asymmetry, economic standing, short sightedness of voters, and party line voting.

Lobbying activities by corporations and business and professional organizations have accelerated greatly, outpacing the growth of public interest groups.Membership in labor unions have declined substantially, eroding the primary mechanism for organized representation of working people in the governmental process." "The real value of the minimum wage has declined by more than 40% since the late 1960's, despite remarkably strong and consistent public support for minimum wage increases." "For example, while the real income of taxpayers at the 99th percentile doubled between 1981 and 2005, the real income of taxpayers at the 99.9th percentile nearly tripled, and the real income of taxpayers at the 99.99th percentile - a hyper-rich stratum comprising of about 13,000 taxpayers - increased fivefold." "In 2005, the New York Times published a 20-year retrospective on the list of the 400 wealthiest Americans produced annually by Forbes magazine. A careful comparison of the living standards of poor children in 13 rich democracies in the 1990's found the United States ranking next to last......worry that inequality itself may have deleterious social implications in the realms of family and community life, health and education." "Middle-class America didn't emerge by accident. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy 'reform' that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era." and with an election coming up, here's food for thought: "On average, the real incomes of middle-class families have grown twice as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans, while the real incomes of working poor families have grown six times as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans.

- There is no statistical evidence to claim that elected representatives (Democratic or Republican) pay any direct attention to the views of the lower third of income earners in their constituencies. Along the way, Bartels offers an alternative answer to the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" question -- Thomas Frank's book -- why voters (at least before the last election) vote for Republican candidates who do not appear to represent their best economic interests.

Dr. Bartels' central concern in this book is to both demonstrate how dramatically unequal the United States has become AND why it is that so relatively few people -- despite sharing moderate to progressive views on most social, political and economic issues -- have repeatedly voted in ways that align with their sentiments. Since the degree of inequality is well discussed elsewhere -- and should, for most of us, be part of our "facts on file" in the first place -- I share with you my increased uneasiness over "democracy" as a consequence of reading this book.

Larry Bartels' "Unequal Democracy" is an exemplary work of accessible and relevant political science, which unfortunately has become so rare theses days, particularly in the subfield of American politics.

An excellent and maddening book about the political and economic inequality that exists in the US.

  • English

  • Politics

  • Rating: 3.91
  • Pages: 325
  • Publish Date: April 27th 2008 by Princeton University Press
  • Isbn10: 0691136637
  • Isbn13: 9780691136639