White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

Eight of the last twelve presidents were millionaires when they took office. Millionaires have a majority on the Supreme Court, and they also make up majorities in Congress, where a background in business or law is the norm and the average member has spent less than two percent of his or her adult life in a working-class job. Why is it that most politicians in America are so much better off than the people who elect them— and does the social class divide between citizens and their representatives matter?
With White-Collar Government, Nicholas Carnes answers this question with a resounding—and disturbing—yes. Legislators’ socioeconomic backgrounds, he shows, have a profound impact on both how they view the issues and the choices they make in office. Scant representation from among the working class almost guarantees that the policymaking process will be skewed toward outcomes that favor the upper class. It matters that the wealthiest Americans set the tax rates for the wealthy, that white-collar professionals choose the minimum wage for blue-collar workers, and that people who have always had health insurance decide whether or not to help those without. And while there is no one cause for this crisis of representation, Carnes shows that the problem does not stem from a lack of qualified candidates from among the working class. The solution, he argues, must involve a variety of changes, from the equalization of campaign funding to a shift in the types of candidates the parties support.
If we want a government for the people, we have to start working toward a government that is truly by the people. White-Collar Government challenges long-held notions about the causes of political inequality in the United States and speaks to enduring questions about representation and political accountability.
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About the author

Nicholas Carnes is assistant professor of public policy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He lives in Durham, NC, and he has worked as a bus boy, dishwasher, and construction worker.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Nov 5, 2013
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9780226087283
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Legislative Branch
Political Science / American Government / State
Political Science / General
Political Science / Public Policy / Economic Policy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Selected as one of Choice magazine's Outstanding Books of 1993

Why working-class Americans almost never become politicians, what that means for democracy, and what reformers can do about it

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In the United States, Carnes shows, elections have a built-in “cash ceiling,” a series of structural barriers that make it almost impossible for the working-class to run for public office. Elections take a serious toll on candidates, many working-class Americans simply can’t shoulder the practical burdens, and civic and political leaders often pass them over in favor of white-collar candidates. But these obstacles aren’t inevitable. Pilot programs to recruit, train, and support working-class candidates have the potential to increase the economic diversity of our governing institutions and ultimately amplify the voices of ordinary citizens.

Who runs for office goes to the heart of whether we will have a democracy that is representative or not. The Cash Ceiling shows that the best hope for combating the oversized political influence of the rich might simply be to help more working-class Americans become politicians.

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