Why are Americans governed by the rich? Millionaires make up only three percent of the public but control all three branches of the federal government. How did this happen? What stops lower-income and working-class Americans from becoming politicians? The first book to answer these urgent questions, The Cash Ceiling provides a compelling and comprehensive account of why so few working-class people hold office—and what reformers can do about it.
Using extensive data on candidates, politicians, party leaders, and voters, Nicholas Carnes debunks popular misconceptions (like the idea that workers are unelectable or unqualified to govern), identifies the factors that keep lower-class Americans off the ballot and out of political institutions, and evaluates a variety of reform proposals.
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.
As a boy, Delaney learned the importance of working hard, telling the truth and embracing compromise. As an entrepreneur, he succeeded because he understood the need to ensure opportunity for all, focus on the future, and think creatively about problem-solving. In these pages, he illustrates the potency of these principles with vivid stories from his childhood, his career in business, his family, and his new life as a politician. He also writes candidly about the often frustrating experience of working on Capitol Hill, where many of his colleagues care more about scoring political points than improving the lives of their fellow Americans. With a clear eye and an open heart, he explains that only by seeing both sides of anargument and releasing our inner entrepreneur can we get back to constructive, enlightened governing.
Seventy years ago, John F. Kennedy appealed to our best instincts when he said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer.” In this inspiring book, John K. Delaney asks all of us to cast aside destructive, partisan thinking and join him in an urgent endeavor: working together to forge a new era of American greatness.