Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

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by Larry M. Bartels
     
 

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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

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Dan Balz
…a provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists.
—The Washington Post
Daily Beast
[I recommend] Larry M. Bartels's Unequal Democracy. Especially at this time every thoughtful American needs to learn as much as possible about the relationship of politics to economics.
— Bill Clinton
CNN
Obama can connect with voters on the economy by using history as a guideline. He should start by reading Unequal Democracy, by Princeton academic Larry Bartels. The non-partisan and non-political Bartels points out devastatingly after an exhaustive study of Democratic and Republican presidents that the Democrats built a better economy and a more just society.
— James Carville
New York Times
Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the [Republican and Democratic] parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November.
— Alan Blinder
New York Review of Books
Bartels is the political scientist of the moment. Along with Obama, Bill Clinton also read and recommends Unequal Democracy. [M]ost people on the street could have told Bartels that the working poor fare better under Democrats . . . but the importance of these and some other findings in the book . . . is that they use scholarly methods to provide political explanations for economic problems.
— Michael Tomasky
Washington Post
[A] provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists. One of Bartels's most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters. Republican presidents...have often generated significant economic growth rates in presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not.
— Dan Balz
Science
A short review cannot convey the rich variety of arguments and data Bartels deploys in making his case. Some of his analysis focuses on broadly characterized partisan differences, some on high profile examples such as the politics of the minimum wage and the estate tax. He will have done a considerable service if the next time we start thinking about economics we also think about politics. Bartels shows that social issues do not create as strong a headwind against class-based voting as is often assumed and that lower income voters do tend to vote Democratic while upper-income voters do tend to vote Republican. Unequal Democracy offers an important case for why this might be.
— Robert Grafstein
Staff Forum
[Bartels] is correct in drawing attention to the tension between the egalitarian values that Americans hold and their apparent toleration for growing economic inequality. And at every step of the argument, he defines and analyzes interesting and relevant evidence.
— Richard R. John
Journal of Southern History
Prodigiously researched and cogently argued, Bartels's timely work should interest academics and lay readers alike.
— Blake A. Ellis
Perspectives on Politics
Larry Bartels's Unequal Democracy is a major landmark in political scientists' efforts to grapple with inequality. . . . Bartels has done so much, and has done it so well, that anyone who quibbles with his interpretations or suggests that he has left important questions unanswered is likely to seem ungenerous, even churlish. . . . Unequal Democracy should be taken as a major contribution and as a touchstone for further research.
— Benjamin I. Page
Public Opinion Quarterly
For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action.
— Nicholas J. G. Winter
Daily Beast - Bill Clinton
[I recommend] Larry M. Bartels's Unequal Democracy. Especially at this time every thoughtful American needs to learn as much as possible about the relationship of politics to economics.
CNN - James Carville
Obama can connect with voters on the economy by using history as a guideline. He should start by reading Unequal Democracy, by Princeton academic Larry Bartels. The non-partisan and non-political Bartels points out devastatingly after an exhaustive study of Democratic and Republican presidents that the Democrats built a better economy and a more just society.
New York Times - Alan Blinder
Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the [Republican and Democratic] parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November.
New York Review of Books - Michael Tomasky
Bartels is the political scientist of the moment. Along with Obama, Bill Clinton also read and recommends Unequal Democracy. [M]ost people on the street could have told Bartels that the working poor fare better under Democrats . . . but the importance of these and some other findings in the book . . . is that they use scholarly methods to provide political explanations for economic problems.
Washington Post - Dan Balz
[A] provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists. One of Bartels's most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters. Republican presidents...have often generated significant economic growth rates in presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not.
Science - Robert Grafstein
A short review cannot convey the rich variety of arguments and data Bartels deploys in making his case. Some of his analysis focuses on broadly characterized partisan differences, some on high profile examples such as the politics of the minimum wage and the estate tax. He will have done a considerable service if the next time we start thinking about economics we also think about politics. Bartels shows that social issues do not create as strong a headwind against class-based voting as is often assumed and that lower income voters do tend to vote Democratic while upper-income voters do tend to vote Republican. Unequal Democracy offers an important case for why this might be.
Newark Star-Ledger - Bob Braun
[E]xtraordinarily insightful.
The Huffington Post - Julian E. Zelizer
Unequal Democracy makes the choice voters face clear: Democratic policies spread the wealth and Republican policies protect the wealthy.
Forum - Richard R. John
[Bartels] is correct in drawing attention to the tension between the egalitarian values that Americans hold and their apparent toleration for growing economic inequality. And at every step of the argument, he defines and analyzes interesting and relevant evidence.
Journal of Southern History - Blake A. Ellis
Prodigiously researched and cogently argued, Bartels's timely work should interest academics and lay readers alike.
Perspectives on Politics - Jennifer Hochschild
The book is exemplary throughout in its transparency with regard to the data and Bartels's analytic strategy for using them, in its attention to alternative explanations for a given outcome, and in its balance between not over-reaching and asserting a clear, controversial, and important thesis. . . . Full of evidence, insights, and surprises. . . . The book is never less than provocative and is often revelatory.
Public Opinion Quarterly - Nicholas J.G. Winter
For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action.
Perspectives on Politics - Benjamin I. Page
Larry Bartels's Unequal Democracy is a major landmark in political scientists' efforts to grapple with inequality. . . . Bartels has done so much, and has done it so well, that anyone who quibbles with his interpretations or suggests that he has left important questions unanswered is likely to seem ungenerous, even churlish. . . . Unequal Democracy should be taken as a major contribution and as a touchstone for further research.
Public Opinion Quarterly - Nicholas J. G. Winter
For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2009 Gladys M. Kammerer Award, American Political Science Association

Winner of the 2009 Leon D. Epstein Outstanding Book Award, Political Organizations and Parties Section of the American Political Science Association

"[I recommend] Larry M. Bartels's Unequal Democracy. Especially at this time every thoughtful American needs to learn as much as possible about the relationship of politics to economics."—Bill Clinton, Daily Beast

"Obama can connect with voters on the economy by using history as a guideline. He should start by reading Unequal Democracy, by Princeton academic Larry Bartels. The non-partisan and non-political Bartels points out devastatingly after an exhaustive study of Democratic and Republican presidents that the Democrats built a better economy and a more just society."—James Carville, CNN

"Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the [Republican and Democratic] parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November."—Alan Blinder, New York Times

"Bartels is the political scientist of the moment. Along with Obama, Bill Clinton also read and recommends Unequal Democracy. [M]ost people on the street could have told Bartels that the working poor fare better under Democrats . . . but the importance of these and some other findings in the book . . . is that they use scholarly methods to provide political explanations for economic problems."—Michael Tomasky, New York Review of Books

"A provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists."—Dan Balz, Washington Post

"A short review cannot convey the rich variety of arguments and data Bartels deploys in making his case. Some of his analysis focuses on broadly characterized partisan differences, some on high profile examples such as the politics of the minimum wage and the estate tax. He will have done a considerable service if the next time we start thinking about economics we also think about politics. Bartels shows that social issues do not create as strong a headwind against class-based voting as is often assumed and that lower income voters do tend to vote Democratic while upper-income voters do tend to vote Republican. Unequal Democracy offers an important case for why this might be."—Robert Grafstein, Science

"[A] provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists. One of Bartels's most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters. Republican presidents...have often generated significant economic growth rates in presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not."—Dan Balz, Washington Post

"[E]xtraordinarily insightful."—Bob Braun, Newark Star-Ledger

"Unequal Democracy makes the choice voters face clear: Democratic policies spread the wealth and Republican policies protect the wealthy."—Julian E. Zelizer, The Huffington Post

"[Bartels] is correct in drawing attention to the tension between the egalitarian values that Americans hold and their apparent toleration for growing economic inequality. And at every step of the argument, he defines and analyzes interesting and relevant evidence."—Richard R. John, Forum

"Prodigiously researched and cogently argued, Bartels's timely work should interest academics and lay readers alike."—Blake A. Ellis, Journal of Southern History

"The book is exemplary throughout in its transparency with regard to the data and Bartels's analytic strategy for using them, in its attention to alternative explanations for a given outcome, and in its balance between not over-reaching and asserting a clear, controversial, and important thesis. . . . Full of evidence, insights, and surprises. . . . The book is never less than provocative and is often revelatory."—Jennifer Hochschild, Perspectives on Politics

"For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action."—Nicholas J. G. Winter, Public Opinion Quarterly

"Larry Bartels's Unequal Democracy is a major landmark in political scientists' efforts to grapple with inequality. . . . Bartels has done so much, and has done it so well, that anyone who quibbles with his interpretations or suggests that he has left important questions unanswered is likely to seem ungenerous, even churlish. . . . Unequal Democracy should be taken as a major contribution and as a touchstone for further research."—Benjamin I. Page, Perspectives on Politics

The Huffington Post
Unequal Democracy makes the choice voters face clear: Democratic policies spread the wealth and Republican policies protect the wealthy.
— Julian E. Zelizer
Newark Star-Ledger
[E]xtraordinarily insightful.
— Bob Braun

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400828357
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
01/10/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
344
Sales rank:
599,871
File size:
7 MB

What People are saying about this

Patterson
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
Gary Orfield
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
DiIulio
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
Thomas Mann
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
Putnam
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"

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