Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America

Princeton University Press
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Can a country be a democracy if its government only responds to the preferences of the rich? In an ideal democracy, all citizens should have equal influence on government policy--but as this book demonstrates, America's policymakers respond almost exclusively to the preferences of the economically advantaged. Affluence and Influence definitively explores how political inequality in the United States has evolved over the last several decades and how this growing disparity has been shaped by interest groups, parties, and elections.

With sharp analysis and an impressive range of data, Martin Gilens looks at thousands of proposed policy changes, and the degree of support for each among poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans. His findings are staggering: when preferences of low- or middle-income Americans diverge from those of the affluent, there is virtually no relationship between policy outcomes and the desires of less advantaged groups. In contrast, affluent Americans' preferences exhibit a substantial relationship with policy outcomes whether their preferences are shared by lower-income groups or not. Gilens shows that representational inequality is spread widely across different policy domains and time periods. Yet Gilens also shows that under specific circumstances the preferences of the middle class and, to a lesser extent, the poor, do seem to matter. In particular, impending elections--especially presidential elections--and an even partisan division in Congress mitigate representational inequality and boost responsiveness to the preferences of the broader public.


At a time when economic and political inequality in the United States only continues to rise, Affluence and Influence raises important questions about whether American democracy is truly responding to the needs of all its citizens.

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About the author

Martin Gilens is professor of politics at Princeton University. He is the author of Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 22, 2012
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9781400844821
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / General
Political Science / General
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
Political Science / Political Process / General
Political Science / Public Policy / General
Social Science / Social Classes & Economic Disparity
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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A groundbreaking work that identifies the real culprit behind one of the great economic crimes of our time— the growing inequality of incomes between the vast majority of Americans and the richest of the rich.

We all know that the very rich have gotten a lot richer these past few decades while most Americans haven’t. In fact, the exorbitantly paid have continued to thrive during the current economic crisis, even as the rest of Americans have continued to fall behind. Why do the “haveit- alls” have so much more? And how have they managed to restructure the economy to reap the lion’s share of the gains and shift the costs of their new economic playground downward, tearing new holes in the safety net and saddling all of us with increased debt and risk? Lots of so-called experts claim to have solved this great mystery, but no one has really gotten to the bottom of it—until now.

In their lively and provocative Winner-Take-All Politics, renowned political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson demonstrate convincingly that the usual suspects—foreign trade and financial globalization, technological changes in the workplace, increased education at the top—are largely innocent of the charges against them. Instead, they indict an unlikely suspect and take us on an entertaining tour of the mountain of evidence against the culprit. The guilty party is American politics. Runaway inequality and the present economic crisis reflect what government has done to aid the rich and what it has not done to safeguard the interests of the middle class. The winner-take-all economy is primarily a result of winner-take-all politics.

In an innovative historical departure, Hacker and Pierson trace the rise of the winner-take-all economy back to the late 1970s when, under a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, a major transformation of American politics occurred. With big business and conservative ideologues organizing themselves to undo the regulations and progressive tax policies that had helped ensure a fair distribution of economic rewards, deregulation got under way, taxes were cut for the wealthiest, and business decisively defeated labor in Washington. And this transformation continued under Reagan and the Bushes as well as under Clinton, with both parties catering to the interests of those at the very top. Hacker and Pierson’s gripping narration of the epic battles waged during President Obama’s first two years in office reveals an unpleasant but catalyzing truth: winner-take-all politics, while under challenge, is still very much with us.

Winner-Take-All Politics—part revelatory history, part political analysis, part intellectual journey— shows how a political system that traditionally has been responsive to the interests of the middle class has been hijacked by the superrich. In doing so, it not only changes how we think about American politics, but also points the way to rebuilding a democracy that serves the interests of the many rather than just those of the wealthy few.
Democracy for Realists assails the romantic folk-theory at the heart of contemporary thinking about democratic politics and government, and offers a provocative alternative view grounded in the actual human nature of democratic citizens.

Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence, including ingenious original analyses of topics ranging from abortion politics and budget deficits to the Great Depression and shark attacks, to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents' control; the outcomes are essentially random. Thus, voters do not control the course of public policy, even indirectly.

Achen and Bartels argue that democratic theory needs to be founded on identity groups and political parties, not on the preferences of individual voters. Now with new analysis of the 2016 elections, Democracy for Realists provides a powerful challenge to conventional thinking, pointing the way toward a fundamentally different understanding of the realities and potential of democratic government.

America faces daunting problems—stagnant wages, high health care costs, neglected schools, deteriorating public services. Yet the government consistently ignores the needs of its citizens, paying attention instead to donors and organized interests. Real issues are held hostage to demagoguery, partisanship beats practicality, and trust in government withers along with the social safety net.

How did we get here? Through decades of dysfunctional government. In Democracy in America? veteran political observers Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens marshal an unprecedented array of evidence to show that while other countries have responded to a rapidly changing economy by helping people who’ve been left behind, the United States has failed to do so. Instead, we have actually exacerbated inequality, enriching corporations and the wealthy while leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves.

What’s the solution? More democracy. More opportunity for citizens to shape what their government does. To repair our democracy, Page and Gilens argue, we must change the way we choose candidates and conduct our elections, reform our governing institutions, and curb the power of money in politics. By doing so, we can reduce polarization and gridlock, address pressing challenges, and enact policies that truly reflect the interests of average Americans.

This book presents a damning indictment. But the situation is far from hopeless. With increased democratic participation as their guide, Page and Gilens lay out a set of proposals that would boost citizen participation, curb the power of money, and democratize the House and Senate. The only certainty is that inaction is not an option. Now is the time to act to restore and extend American democracy.
America faces daunting problems—stagnant wages, high health care costs, neglected schools, deteriorating public services. Yet the government consistently ignores the needs of its citizens, paying attention instead to donors and organized interests. Real issues are held hostage to demagoguery, partisanship beats practicality, and trust in government withers along with the social safety net.

How did we get here? Through decades of dysfunctional government. In Democracy in America? veteran political observers Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens marshal an unprecedented array of evidence to show that while other countries have responded to a rapidly changing economy by helping people who’ve been left behind, the United States has failed to do so. Instead, we have actually exacerbated inequality, enriching corporations and the wealthy while leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves.

What’s the solution? More democracy. More opportunity for citizens to shape what their government does. To repair our democracy, Page and Gilens argue, we must change the way we choose candidates and conduct our elections, reform our governing institutions, and curb the power of money in politics. By doing so, we can reduce polarization and gridlock, address pressing challenges, and enact policies that truly reflect the interests of average Americans.

This book presents a damning indictment. But the situation is far from hopeless. With increased democratic participation as their guide, Page and Gilens lay out a set of proposals that would boost citizen participation, curb the power of money, and democratize the House and Senate. The only certainty is that inaction is not an option. Now is the time to act to restore and extend American democracy.
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