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Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age Hardcover – 27 Apr 2008

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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

From the Back Cover

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
IN THE FIRST sentence of one of the greatest works of modern political science, Robert Dahl posed a question of profound importance for democratic theory and practice: "In a political system where nearly every adult may vote but where knowledge, wealth, social position, access to officials, and other resources are unequally distributed, who actually governs?"1 Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 30 reviews
61 of 68 people found the following review helpful
New provocative evidence 1 Jun. 2008
By Timothy J. Bartik - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Larry Bartels's book is one of the most important written works on economic inequality issues over the last 25 years. Anyone discussing economic inequality in the U.S. will have to deal with Bartels's arguments and evidence, even if you disagree with his findings and how he interprets those findings.

Among the evidence and arguments of Bartels's books are the following:

*** Since World War II, Democratic Presidents have been associated with modestly progressive patterns of real per family income growth, that is the income growth during Democratic Presidents' terms has been somewhat higher for lower income families than for upper income families. Republican Presidents have been associated with highly regressive patterns of real per family income growth, that is income growth has been much higher for upper income families than for other families. However, all income groups have on average gained more under Democratic Presidents.

*** The Democratic Presidents' better performance has been concentrated during the second year of Presidential terms. Republican Presidents have done better during the 4th year of Presidential terms, that is the election year. This may help explain Presidential election results, as voters appear to respond more to election year economic performance than the economic performance of prior years.

*** Economic issues still are key for working class voters in the U.S.

*** Political leaders appear to be much more responsive to upper class and middle class voters in their state than to lower class voters. However, even more of voting behavior is explained by the ideology of a politician's political party. This is true both for the Democrats, who have ignored most voters' opposition to estate taxes, and for Republicans, who have ignored most voters' support for higher minimum wages.

Bartels's work is only a start. He really does not have even close to a complete theory about WHY economic growth for different income families has the correlations he finds with Presidential political party. We would need to know more about this to more completely judge the relative economic performance under different political parties.

In addition, his book raises the issue of how we can improve the quality of the political debate in the U.S. over issues of economic inequality. There is considerable resistance in the U.S. to openly discussing these issues. Politicians who discuss these issues risk being accused of promoting "class warfare". As Bartels points out, there is some tendency to want to assume that somehow the income distribution is determined by unchanging economic laws that are impervious to political influence. Bartels presents new evidence that in fact the income distribution can be influenced by public policy to a very large extent. But the question is, how do we make this understanding part of the mainstream political debate?
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Get Real About Inequality and Its Political Consequences/Causes 24 May 2008
By Historied - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a quite amazing book for its wealth of fascinating and often counter intuitive information, particularly income distribution stats and political survey information. There is definitely a form of political delusion at work in the USA, based on voters so consistently voting against their own interests. For example voters favoring abolition of the estate tax when it only affects the top 2% of tax payers or favoring the Bush 2001 tax cuts without knowing anything much about them. More interestingly he shows how, while increasing political knowledge (measured by simple questions on who is what position in US politics) increases Democrats awareness of economic inequality; the same increasing political knowledge makes Republicans LESS knowledgeable or more in denial that inequality has increased, let alone whether it is a problem. He also nails the idea that the blue collar have shifted against their interests. Republican voting is still largely a matter of the better off supporting them, especially the less well educated and religious better off The Democrats lost power because of the defection of the South that now merely reflects the national picture (rather than hugely Democratic as before Civil Rights circa 1964) and the growth of reasonably well off, non college educated, religious voters who vote on economic AND values grounds, though still against their economic interests. Since 1948 economic growth has been on average significantly higher and unemployment lower for all social groups under Democrat presidents; inflation has been only slightly higher. And income equality much better under Democrats. Ultimately I suppose a worrying and somewhat pessimistic book, but a necessary tough tonic before thinking of solutions. Voters tend to vote on the economy in election year and the Republicans have done better in election years and voters don't seem to remember the other years when things were much worse. I hope both Presidential Candidates read it but doubt it will have the necessary impact. That will take a gutsy new FDR to put the country back together again after a collapse like the 1930s. Interestingly my conservative friends go into huge denial about this book: they can't even consider it; it is so threatening to their world view. I am open to doubt about its data and arguments, but the author provides plentiful source and precise survey question detail so intelligent engagement with the book is really easy, whether you agree or not with his fundamental premises. The author hasn't voted since 1984 he says and then voted Reagan, so this is not another move on.org book for the choir. The evidence drove him to his conclusions rather than the other way round. I wish there were more books this insightful.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Insightful! 6 Sept. 2008
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Unequal Democracy" presents the results of a six-year exploration of the political causes and consequences of economic inequality in America. It was inspired by the substantial escalation of this inequality in recent years. Total income going to the top 0.1% of income earners has more than tripled, from 3.2% in the late 1950s to 10.9% in 2005; that going to the top 1% rose from 10.2% to 21.8%. Further, this widening is accelerating. Despite this trend, 80% believe that though you may start out poor, if you work hard you can make lots of money - more than any other developed nation. This belief undermines motivation for change.

Bartels believes that the most significant domestic policy initiative of the past decade has been a massive government-engineered transfer of additional wealth from the lower and middle classes to the rich via substantial reduction in federal income taxes for the rich.

Economists have found little evidence that large disparities promote growth, or that progressive tax rates retard growth by discouraging economic effort.

Meanwhile, political campaigns have become dramatically more expensive, increasing the reliance of elected officials on those who can afford to help finance their re-election bids. At the same time, membership in labor groups, a previously countervailing force, has substantially declined.

On average over the past half century, real incomes of middle-class families grew 2X under Democrats vs. Republicans, and working poor families grew 6X faster under Democrats - even after allowing for differences in economic circumstances.

So why do those with lower incomes vote for Republicans? Bartels tells us that contrary to the theme of "What Happened to Kansas," moral values do not trump economics as a basis for lower-income voting behavior. Bartels offers evidence that the contradiction is explained by confusion generated by mixing "working class" (defined often as those w/o a college education) with lower-income. The working class has a lot of relatively high earners that are influenced by the moral values issues.

Bartels then contends that Republican success in presidential races is due to voters' overemphasis on election-year economic growth, vs. the superior longer-term performance of Democratic presidents, but lesser achievement during the last year of their terms.

Finally, its on to the estate ("death") tax. Actions to reduce and eliminate it during the early Bush II years represent about 15% of the impact of the overall tax reduction package. Bartels asserts that there is enormous misunderstanding about this tax regarding the wideness of its applicability. As a result, it is a wonder that it still exists.

Bottom Line: "Unequal Democracy" presents a carefully documented set of conclusions about an important and timely topic; its only drawback is that sometimes the statistics get too deep.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
On Spreading the Wealth 26 Oct. 2008
By Izaak VanGaalen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this study Princeton professor Larry Bartels makes the argument that lower- and middle-income groups consistently do better under Democratic administrations than under Republican. During the last sixty years (1948-present) the average annual growth of real GNP was 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents and 2.78 percent under Democratic presidents. He shows further that income inequality has gone sharply upward during Republican administrations and slightly downward during Democratic. Inequality has gone up significantly since 1980, years in which Republicans have won all but two presidential elections. He calls this the "new gilded age" because the top 1 percent now controls 20 percent of the wealth, a percentage not seen since the 1920's. Perhaps another sign that the economy is out of balance and heading for greater turbulence.

Republican economists will argue that this is merely a statistical aberration. They claim that presidents have little influence over the economy, and other forces such as monetary policy, oil prices, and technology are more determinative. Republicans view the market as a force of nature, whereas Democrats see it as a political construct. Bartels, being a Democrat, makes a strong case for government intervention to achieve greater balance and greater income equality.

Bartels shows that Democratic presidents have consistently produced their best results during their second year in office. This is because the spending programs put in place the first year usually produce their benfits the second. Not suprisingly income growth was virtually the same for both parties the first, third, and fourth years. The second year surge seems to have given Democrats the edge.

The question that comes to mind is that if Democrats are producing higher income growth and greater equality why did Republicans win 5 of the last 7 presidential elections? Bartels' answer is that the benefits of the second year are no longer part of the voter's consideration by the time elections roll around. Also by the fourth year Republican presidential candidates are making populist election year promises that make them indistinguishable for Democratic candidates. (Which party now is not in favor of bailouts and stimulus packages?)

Bartles makes an interseting argument. He argues that for those looking out for their economic interests it is not only important for Democrats to vote Democratic but Republicans - other than the top 1 percent - should also be voting Democratic. (Joe the Plumber included.) The upcoming presidential elections will probably prove Bartels theory correct.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Don't get this on a Kindle 12 Nov. 2009
By Dean S. Maclaughlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While I think that the premise and argument of this book is accurate, I have found the Kindle edition practically unreadable. The author relies on lots of tables, which are unreadable even when zoomed. Other tables in the text bleed off the right edge of the screen. Sloppy conversion to Kindle!
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