Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

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9780691146232: Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

Using a vast swath of data spanning the past six decades, Unequal Democracy debunks many myths about politics in contemporary America, using the widening gap between the rich and the poor to shed disturbing light on the workings of American democracy. 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 less income growth for middle-class and working-poor families than for affluent families, greatly increasing inequality. He provides revealing case studies of key policy shifts contributing to inequality, including the massive Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and the erosion of the minimum wage. Finally, he challenges conventional explanations for why many voters seem to vote against their own economic interests, contending that working-class voters have not been lured into the Republican camp by "values issues" like abortion and gay marriage, as commonly believed, but that Republican presidents have been remarkably successful in timing income growth to cater to short-sighted voters.

Unequal Democracy is social science at its very best. It provides a deep and searching analysis of the political causes and consequences of America's growing income gap, and a sobering assessment of the capacity of the American political system to live up to its democratic ideals.

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From the Inside Flap:


"Unequal Democracy is the sort of book to which every political scientist should aspire--it is methodologically rigorous, conceptually serious, and above all, it addresses urgent concerns of our fellow citizens. As Bartels shows, much of what we think we know about the politics of economic inequality is dead wrong. Bartels's perplexing and often unexpected discoveries should help refocus the gathering public debate about inequality and what to do about it."--Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone


"This is a fantastic book, a real tour de force. It is a hugely important study of increasing economic inequality in America and the failure of the political system to mitigate its effects on poor citizens. It is the best work that has been done on the political economy of income inequality."--Thomas Mann, Brookings Institution


"Unequal Democracy completes the story of why America's wealthy have become superrich. As Larry Bartels, one of the nation's top political scientists, convincingly demonstrates, the rich get richer when the Republicans are in power and when the less affluent fail to vote. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants answers to why so many of America's working- and middle-class families are struggling to get by."--Thomas E. Patterson, Harvard University


"Economists tend to see economic inequality as the unhappy but unavoidable result of markets--working-class people have to become relatively poorer because they are competing in a globalized world. This book suggests that economists are wrong and that the growing inequality in America is not the product of world forces but of Republican administrations during which income grows more slowly, inequality soars, and no one notices because they pump up the economy during election years. Low-income people have very little influence but which party is in power makes a vast difference for their fate. If you care about economic justice, you need to seriously examine the powerful data in this book and recognize that we can choose a better, fairer society."--Gary Orfield, University of California, Los Angeles


"No political scientist is more widely or rightly respected than Larry Bartels, and Unequal Democracy is a brilliant book that only he could have written. The book proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the main fault for sizable socioeconomic inequalities in America lies not in our economy but in our increasingly polarized and partisan politics. With intellectual force, Unequal Democracy pulls back the sheets on Washington's pamper-the-rich policy process and offers ideas about how we can do better by average citizens and the poor. It is Bartels at his very best, and his very best is the best there is."--John J. DiIulio, Jr., University of Pennsylvania, former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives


About the Author:

Larry M. Bartels is the Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs and director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University.

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Larry M. Bartels
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