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The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath Paperback – June, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Economic analysis and historical comparisons blend to show that Reagan's presidency left a huge concentration of wealth at the top that harms the poor, adds to the mounting debt and allows foreigners to grab large chunks of America. "A stunning refutation of George Gilder's Wealth and Poverty , Phillips's dispassionate report offers no solutions yet zeros in on key problems," said PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this extremely readable description of the economic consequences of the "Reagan revolution" of the 1980s, Phillips relies on diverse empirical data to support the notion that there is a cyclical pattern in American politics. Like the 1880s and the 1920s, the 1980s, says Phillips, represented the ascendancy of the Republican party, which allowed the wealthy to make even further dramatic gains over the middle and lower classes. This "circulation of elites" notion points to a populist backlash and possible return of the Democratic party to the presidency in the 1990s, he says. His critique fits nicely with the work of Arthur M. Schlesinger and the pioneering turn-of-the-century European social scientists Roberto Michels and Vilfredo Pareto.
- William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; First Edition edition (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006097396X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060973964
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,345,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on August 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Phillips has documented in some detail the massive income shift of the Reagan years. In almost all categories the upper 10% of American families soared, while the remaining 90% either stagnated, or at the lower end, actually declined. The author's exhaustive charts demonstrate statistically what popular opinion could only entertain: the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. An interesting question to pose is why a Republican strategist like Phillips would document this adverse result in such unsparing fashion. Perhaps like some far-seeing conservatives he views a growing income gap as destabilizing to the country, and hopes to bring forth moderating influences.
In any event, the book stands as an excellent reference for understanding the impact of those years. That Phillips does not delve beyond surface movements for deeper explanation is not an objection to the work as a whole. For what he succeeds in doing with considerable authority and as "one of their own", is to revive class bias as the focal point of American politics. Being a conservative, he is not about the business of endorsing class-struggle as a premise of human history or American politics. Nevertheless, his linking of the Reagan era to previous eras of capitalist overreach helps to revive the long submerged story of class-struggle in America. This is an indispensible book for understanding the 1980's and years beyond.
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Format: Paperback
Phillips wrote this book in 1990.This allows a reader to compare it with later books that dealt with the same problem ,such as " Boiling Point " in 1993 and " Arrogant Capital " in 1994.The first point that Phillips demonstrates overwhelmingly was that the Reagan tax cuts were primarily aimed at increasing the wealth and political power of the Wall Street speculators and investment banks like Bear Stearns,Merrill Lynch,Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley,Lehman Brothers,J.P. Morgan,Credit Suisse,Deutsche Bank,etc. This was possible because Reagan was not able to differentiate between Wall Street speculators ,on the one hand ,and entrepreneurship and enterprise ,on the other hand. For instance,ALL of the supply side economists(Laffer,Wannsiki,etc.)and most of the University of Chicago economists advising President Reagan were tied in to the Wall Street crowd ,either directly or indirectly.Phillips covers this in chapter 3.It is here that he makes two serious mistakes in less than one half of a sentence that costs him one-half of a star.He states :" Most of the conservative theorists acknowledged their restatement of Adam Smith..."(Phillips,1990,p.65).First,none of the supply siders or University of Chicago economists are conservative in the sense that Adam Smith was .They are Libertarians.This is a major confusion that is ubiquitous in America.Second,NONE of the policies recommended by these supply side and Chicago advisors follows from Smith.First ,Smith favored (a) an overall, progressive tax system,not a flat or proportional system (Smith,1776,Modern Library(Cannan) edition,p.794),(b)retaliatory and revenue tariffs(Smith,pp.Read more ›
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Timothy D. Dailey on May 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
Kevin Phillips has all the credentials necessary to speak on this subject and for those who seem unaware of it; happens to be a republican. His detailed coherent account of what is, in the hands of most authors, a murky story - how the rich really got richer at the expense of the majority during the 80's - is fact filled, copiously notated, and hard to fault without resorting to a willfull ignorance to believe ideology over evidence. A must read book for anybody who got taken at that Three Card Monty table that was the american economy of the 80's
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By john steppling on November 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The myths (or many of them)of the right are given full exposure in this fine book. Well researched and well written, it is a good primer on the delusions of the privledged class (just read some of the other reviews on this page).
Over all a significant contribution to the new analysis of conservative revisionism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Astrobooker on January 29, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although Kevin Phillips wrote this book back in the late 1980s, many of its socio-economic descriptions are accurate for the 21st Century. The book was required reading in many colleges when it was first published and the author's prediction about the characteristics of the economic times were on target and may have been exceeded in 2011.

Phillips would do well writing an update to the Politics of Rich and Poor. Its narrative is still relevant today.
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By Gderf on September 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is an old take on a currently popular theme. The 1990 political analysis blames inequality on the Reagan administration along with a sociological bias blaming the top 0.5% income earners. Both biases have long ago been shown to be wrong. The anti-rich rhetoric boomerangs on the middle class as the author switches his attack from the top 0.5% to the middle deciles as convenient to his data. He makes the usual egalitarian error of substituting taxable income for consumption. The book contradicts itself with data in the appendices.

The trend away from equality predated Reagan and continues unabated to the present. The syndrome is graphically shown with data presented by Thomas Piketty in 'Capital in the Twenty-first Century.' The construction that inequality is a product of middle class promotion is wishful thinking and out of touch with both reality and the rest of the text. Phillips is fond of banal aphorisms like a happier worker is a more productive worker. Highly paid labor is efficient labor is backwards Its efficiency that earns higher pay. The government attempt to pay ahead of productivity is not working and the failed experiment is impossible to reverse.

He says that the 1% wants to cut wages and budget. The worst error is contention that macro policy of the central bank (Fed) favors the 1%. It does only because the super rich are the only ones able to cope with the currency devaluation that is destroying middle class savings. Lawyers are aiding rent seeking, while the 15% capital gain favors the rich, neglecting homeowners. He observes less equality of opportunity and incentive pay is overrated. He says that regulation favors the rich, neglecting to point out that rescission of Glass-Stiegall was a prime component of the Clinton administration, not Reagan.
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