The Cash Ceiling: Why Only the Rich Run for Office--and What We Can Do about It

Princeton University Press
Free sample

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

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.

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About the author

Nicholas Carnes is the Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. He is the author of White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Sep 11, 2018
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Pages
344
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ISBN
9780691184203
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / General
Political Science / Political Process / Campaigns & Elections
Political Science / Political Process / Leadership
Political Science / Public Policy / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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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.
The first declared candidate for president in 2020 delivers a passionate call for bipartisan action, entrepreneurial innovation, and a renewed commitment to the American idea

The son of a union electrician and grandson of an immigrant, John K. Delaney grew up believing that anything was possible in America. Before he was fifty, he founded, built and then sold two companies worth billions of dollars. Driven by a deep desire to serve, in 2012 he stepped away from his businesses, ran for Congress, and won. Now he has a new mission: unifying our terribly divided nation and guiding it to a brighter future.

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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.

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America, says Pulitzer Prize­–winning reporter Chris Hedges, is convulsed by an array of pathologies that have arisen out of profound hopelessness, a bitter despair, and a civil society that has ceased to function. The opioid crisis; the retreat into gambling to cope with economic distress; the pornification of culture; the rise of magical thinking; the celebration of sadism, hate, and plagues of suicides are the physical manifestations of a society that is being ravaged by corporate pillage and a failed democracy. As our society unravels, we also face global upheaval caused by catastrophic climate change. All these ills presage a frightening reconfiguration of the nation and the planet.

Donald Trump rode this disenchantment to power. In his “forceful and direct” (Publishers Weekly) America: The Farewell Tour, Hedges argues that neither political party, now captured by corporate power, addresses the systemic problem. Until our corporate coup d’état is reversed these diseases will grow and ravage the country. “With sharply observed detail, Hedges writes a requiem for the American dream” (Kirkus Reviews) and seeks to jolt us out of our complacency while there is still time.
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