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White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making (Chicago Studies in American Politics) Paperback – November 5, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"If you’re wondering 'what’s the matter with Kansas?'—working-class Americans voting against their own class interest—you should be asking, 'what’s the matter with Congress (and state legislatures, the Supreme Court, and basically every other American political institution)?' As Nicholas Carnes engagingly shows, politicians with working-class backgrounds take positions very much in line with working-class interests. The problem is that there are hardly any of them in office. Sure to stir debate, White-Collar Government opens up exciting research vistas and new strategies of reform."
 

(Jacob S. Hacker, Yale University, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer-And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class)

“That Congress contains more than its fair share of millionaires is fairly well known. But I’ve never seen it put quite this vividly. . . . Nicholas Carnes’s research—and common sense—shows that the simple fact of being a white-collar millionaire leads to different priorities. It leads to different social circles. It leads to different bills.”
(Ezra Klein, Washington Post)

“A bold, compelling, and much-needed study of how the lack of working class individuals in public life shapes what government does. Nicholas Carnes undertakes a careful analysis to show how the disproportionate representation of people from white-collar professions skews government output toward conservative economic policies. The evidence he presents convinces me!”
(Theda Skocpol, Harvard University)

“‘Where you stand depends on where you sit’ is a maxim seldom applied to the economic backgrounds of legislators. But Nicholas Carnes’s eye-opening study shows social class and work experience to be key determinants in shaping how Congress and state legislatures write laws and shape policies.”
(Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It)

"White-Collar Government is a superb analysis of an important and long-neglected topic. Nicholas Carnes documents the overwhelming underrepresentation of the working class in America's legislatures and shows why it matters. At local, state, and national levels, the dearth of representatives from working-class backgrounds, Carnes shows, has bent public policies toward the interests of business and the well-to-do. This book combines fluid, accessible prose with methodological rigor to make a powerful statement about the causes and consequences of our disproportionately white-collar government. Anyone concerned with the health of American democracy needs to read Carnes' compelling study."

(Martin S. Gilens, Princeton University, author of Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America)

“Legislators with substantial working-class experience constitute less than two percent of Congress, whose members have a median net worth of $1.5 million, almost twenty times the amount held by the median family in the United States. In White-Collar Government, Carnes carefully documents this reality, which has been hidden in plain sight. And he demonstrates that it matters: politicians from the working classes, it turns out, think and vote differently from those with white collars on economic issues, including taxation, social spending and corporate regulations. With its compelling case that ‘who wins and who loses depends in large part on who governs,’ his rigorous book should command the attention of everyone who is concerned about the state of our democracy.”
(Glenn C. Altschuler Huffington Post 2013-12-01)

“America’s relationship to class is complicated, and tracking what is a powerful but often invisible identifier is a challenge. Carnes’s book offers scholars a much-needed jumping-off point for continued research on why the working class is vastly underrepresented in public office and how this affects policy outcomes.”
(Tom Perriello Democracy 2014-03-24)

“In politics, class matters, and it matters immensely. . . .  Carnes offers striking evidence that the class background of legislators profoundly influences the US political system. . . . White-Collar Government demonstrates that the working class is radically underrepresented in all levels of US government, and the consequences are substantial. I hope (and suspect) that Carnes’s findings will ignite a wave of research that builds on these conclusions.”
(Congress and the Presidency 2015-02-24)

“[Carnes] explores the hidden role of class in economic policy making and presents a solution to the notion that legislators’ socioeconomic backgrounds have a profound impact not only on how they view issues but also on the choices they make in office.”
(Journal of Economic Literature 2015-04-24)

About the Author

Nicholas Carnes is assistant professor of public policy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He lives in Durham, NC, and he has worked as a bus boy, dishwasher, and construction worker.
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Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Studies in American Politics
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022608714X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226087146
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
People are beginning to realize political parties are not what is causing most of the problems in this nation. This book clearly points out Congress is dominated by people who represent the white-collar class (98%) and have little or no representation for the working class (2%). This ruling class creates legislation that supports the social class they represent. Congress does not necessarily represent the middle class either. The book should be required reading for all Americans who want our government to do what's best for all Americans.
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Nicholas Carnes convincingly demonstrates with a wide range of data sets that lawmakers from different classes clearly bring different economic opinions to the legislative process at the federal, state, and local levels and make different choices on economic issues. The shortage of working-class Americans in the country’s legislatures and the over-representation of white-collar Americans have as consequences that tax policies are more regressive, business regulations are more pro-business, and social safety net programs are thinner. To overcome this under-representation of working-class Americans in the country’s legislatures, Mr. Carnes estimates based on his research that the social class makeup of government is easier to equalize than either political participation or money in politics. The existing organizations supporting working-class candidates also sponsor get-out-the-vote efforts and other routine forms of political participation and help these candidates raise money to fund their campaigns. Mr. Carnes concludes that the current unequal representation of the working class in the country’s legislatures goes against the U.S.’ most cherished political ideals.
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Format: Paperback
The book’s thesis is simple and straightforward. If you elect mostly wealthy representatives, you’ll get policy that represents the interests of the well-off. Or, as Carnes puts it in the converse logic: “the shortage of people from the working class in American legislatures skews the policy-making process toward outcomes that are more in line with the upper class’s economic interests.”
About two percent of members of the U.S. Congress came from a working-class occupation. About three percent of the average state legislature and about nine percent of the average city council also come from a working-class background. But more than half (54 percent) of U.S. citizens are in working-class jobs. Something is off. And this distortion has real effects on policy.
White-Collar Government documents what you might have already guessed: that working-class representatives tend to be more concerned about working-class issues. They have more progressive voting records, and they introduce more progressive economic legislation.
But Carnes’ key contribution is showing how that translates into outcomes. State legislatures, those laboratories of democracy, vary in both the share of representatives who come from blue-collar jobs, and the share of state funding allocated to social programs. It turns out the two are correlated. In Maine, for example, one in seven representatives come from blue-collar jobs (making it the most working-class state legislature). It devotes 30 percent of its budget to social programs – one of the highest rates of any state. By contrast, states with higher percentages of business owners tend to have less generous support for unemployment, and lower corporate tax rates.
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Mr. Carnes has written a book that explains the problem in easy terms of what is WRONG with our political system. There are way to many wealth people who don't have to worry about feeding their kids...making the rent...how to keep a job. Wealthy people don't send their children to war but don't hesitate to put in harms way kids of poverty or middle class. The way to solve this problem is for everyday joes to run for office and to VOTE. In one or two elections if everyone voted we could bring the negative power of money to its knees. Voters must vote for their own interests and not continue to listen to the people with money. Well written book. I highly recommend it.
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