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Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America Kindle Edition

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Length: 352 pages
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2013 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, American Political Science Association
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles Top 25 Academic Books for 2013

"The best book in decades on political inequality. . . . Gilens's years of careful empirical research and his impressively fair and clear presentation of evidence mark a major step forward in the scientific study of political inequality in America."--Larry Bartels, Monkey Cage blog

"[T]he findings in [Martin Gilens's book] are important, timely, and, at times, surprising."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

"[F]ascinating."--Pacific Standard Magazine

"This book is already being hailed as a landmark study of American political representation."--Thomas Ferguson, Perspectives on Politics

"[I] was simply unaware of the facts presented in Martin Gilens's new Affluence and Influence. Gilens compiles a massive data set of public opinion surveys and subsequent policy outcomes, and reaches a shocking conclusion: Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich. When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class. . . . [I]ntellectually satisfying . . ."--Bryan Caplan, Econlog

"This nuanced, carefully constructed volume evaluates the relationship between growing economic inequality and political power in the U.S., finding that policy outcomes are biased overwhelmingly in favour of the affluent. . . . Especially impressive are his successful efforts at separating the influence of interest groups and political parties on policy outcomes from the influence of public opinion by economic class. His opening chapter on citizen competence and democratic decision making should be required reading for those who doubt the feasibility and value of a truly representative government."--Choice

"Martin Gilens makes an important empirical contribution to the discussions about the effects of inequality on policymaking in the United States."--Nolan McCarty, American Interest

"Gilens' book, as with all good political science scholarship, provides the cold, hard data to prove a crucial hypothesis of our times, in this case that American politics responds only to the preferences of the affluent. . . . [I]t is certainly well-written by academic standards; it is clinical and precise, with a table of logistic regressions to back up every claim. So if you are looking for a rigorous study of the relationship between affluence and influence, then look no further. This book is a vital weapon in the armoury for anyone who suspects that American democracy might not be all it seems."--Maeve McKeown, New Left Project

"At a time when economic and political inequality in the United States only continues to rise, Affluence and Influence raises important questions about whether American democracy is truly responding to the needs of all its citizens."--World Book Industry

From the Back Cover

"Inequality in America is steadily worsening, and nowhere is that more worrying than in our politics. This deservedly prize-winning book offers compelling new evidence that affluent Americans have much more influence than their fellow citizens and that this disparity is growing."--Robert Putnam, Harvard University

"Our democracy isn't: That's the inescapable conclusion of this incredibly powerful and beautifully written book. Too important for academics alone, this is required reading for any citizen, or anyone anywhere trying to understand how history's most important democracy has lost its way."--Lawrence Lessig, Harvard University

"Democracy is based on the ideal that every citizen has an equal potential to shape what government does. With care and without cant, Gilens shows that we are very far from this ideal in contemporary American politics. The economically privileged don't always get what they want. But, according to Gilen's pioneering analysis, they are much more influential than those below them on the economic ladder. Affluence and Influence is a landmark in the study of representation."--Jacob Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics

"When the U.S. government makes policies on critical issues, it responds to the preferences of the affluent, but often ignores the poor and middle class. Using public opinion and policy data in innovative ways, this eye-opening book explores the reasons for unequal government responsiveness to citizen preferences. For anyone who cares about inequality and democracy in America, this book goes at the top of the reading list. A home run."--Theda Skocpol, Harvard University

"Affluence and Influence is social science at its best, melding sophisticated scholarship with moral purpose. The book shows how better-off Americans sway elections and get the laws they want. If other citizens feel unrepresented, Gilens's analysis could be a first step toward redress."--Andrew Hacker, Queens College

"This is an important book, destined to be a classic. It is the definitive statement to date on a big topic: how general public opinion, the opinions of affluent citizens, and the views of organized interest groups affect the making of U.S. public policy. Containing scrupulous analysis and well-supported claims, Affluence and Influence will have great scholarly impact and reach broad audiences concerned with American politics, public policy, and democratic theory."--Benjamin I. Page, Northwestern University

"This book addresses fundamental questions about equality and democratic responsiveness in the United States, and concludes that government policies are more responsive to affluent citizens than to others less well off. Part of the novelty and richness of the book comes from its description of specific policy issues and cases, which provides a detailed and important picture of real-world American politics."--Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Raghu Nathan on December 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I chanced to come across this book while watching an interview with the author on TV. The subject matter and the interview were interesting and it made me want to read the book. Soon after starting to read it, I realized that it is actually aimed more at academics than lay readers like me. The book contains extensive use of Regression Analysis, concepts like Net Interest Group Alignment Index and measurement of many variables related to this subject. Though it is not an easy read, one can still look at the data, read the analysis and grasp the conclusions that the author arrives at. When I finished the book, I thought that the author has covered the gist of his arguments in the title itself, namely 'Economic Inequality and Political Power in America'.

Now, what is the book's thesis? In the author's own words, it is as follows:
"If you judge how much say people have--their influence over policy--by the match between their policy preferences and subsequent policy outcomes, then American citizens are vastly unequal in their influence over policymaking, and that inequality is growing. In most circumstances, affluent Americans exert substantial influence over the policies adopted by the federal government, and less well off Americans exert virtually none. Even when Democrats control Congress and the White House, the less well off are no more influential.
The one bright spot in this unhappy tale of unequal influence is that political competition increases the responsiveness of policymakers to the views of the public and generates policies that more equally reflect the preferences of all Americans. When elections are near and when control of the government is divided or uncertain, parties broaden their appeal, and influence becomes more equal.
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Martin Gilens's book Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America is a very important book that is not very fun to read. It is sort of an extended version of a paper that Gilens coauthored with Benjamin Page. Gilens and Page released a study titled "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Privilege," which created quite a controversy with its findings. The study's finding concluded that verifiably only the interests of American citizen's top 10% are accounted for in American politics, and the only way other American citizens get the policies they want is when the top 10% supports those policies as well. This book of Gilens' is essentially an elaboration of those research findings as well as others he and other people have conducted. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the book is not very fun to read because it's not really written for popular consumption--even though it's marketed that way. Gilens writes as if his audience is an academic audience, and he frequently refers to studies and debates that take place that I imagine the ordinary intelligent reader is going to have no idea about. The book could have been better written and not been so esoteric in the way it addresses the reader.

Even though it's no fun, I'm glad the book was written and think it will be a good resource.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David J. Wallace on June 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Prof Gilens does an excellent job of correlating government policy decision against economic strata providing an in depth look and the nexus of policy decision versus citizen preference based on affluence. Not only does he do an excellent job of explaining in understandable terms he also provides the data he culled through and provides insight on the statistical methodologies used.

This book should provide a useful mechanism to begin a national discussion on policy and representation.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is a book (and several studies) by Princeton Sociologist Martin Gilens making the rounds among “campaign finance reformers” of late. Gilens purports to have analyzed extensive data regarding the political preferences of the affluent, the middle class, and the poor, and to have distinguished between the three. The book is essentially Marxist in its obsession with class struggle, and government’s responsiveness to the wishes of the poor, as opposed to those of the middle class, as opposed to those of the rich.
Gilens’ overarching theme and conclusion is that the political system responds more favorably to the policy preferences of the affluent than to the policy preferences of the poor or the middle class. His work is cited commonly by the government-trusting “left” as grounds for constitutional amendments, “democracy vouchers,” and other mechanisms to further empower the government in the area of campaign messaging.
This research might be criticized on many grounds. Gilens has made dozens—maybe hundreds, maybe thousands—of choices regarding which polls to cite, and which statutes of Congress or policies of the president to count as successful enactments. By picking some polls and not others, or pointing to some policies and not others, Gilens pronounces (don’t laugh) that the U.S. government has veered deeply toward a free-market, libertarian agenda—as (he claims) is favored by the ultra-rich.
Of course, even the most superficial scrutiny of long-term trends (e.g., the growing share of GDP taken up by government) demonstrates the general falsity of some of Gilens’ assertions.
Gilens’ work contains a built-in bias favoring the notion that “democracy” works best when political representatives are most responsive to majorities.
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