ELECTION TUESDAY

FACT: “Republican candidates won 51.7% of all the votes cast for major-party candidates in the fourteen presidential elections from 1952 through 2004; Democratic Candidates captured 48.3%.”

Unequal Democracy:
The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

by Larry M. Bartels

“[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

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.

“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

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.