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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Inequality and Government

It’s one of the great ironies of this political era of discontent that some of the most exceptional indicia of economic inequality in recent American history are being accompanied by a populist backlash against income redistribution, even in its most time-honored forms.
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, who wrote an important analysis of latter-day conservatism and it impact on political discourse in Off Center, have returned with a book on the politics of inequality: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.
I’ve done a full review of this book for the Washington Monthly, and you can check that out at your leisure. But the book is useful in two major respects: (1) It focuses not just on the ever-growing divide in wealth and income between the top and everyone else, but between the top-of-the-top and everyone else, a process that has been largely immune to the economic vicissitudes of the last decade. (2) It makes a very strong case against the assumption that this sort of inequality is the “natural” product of market forces, rather than the artificial results of government policies deliberately promoted for that purpose.
I tend to think that Hacker and Pierson undestimate the deep-seated, non-contrived extent of anti-government sentiments among Americans, and the contributions of poor public-sector performance in abetting them, but all in all, their book is a very valuable contribution to our understanding of the politics of the economy today and yesterday. It’s a book that will probably make you mad–but in a constructive way. It’s certainly an appropriate read for the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

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