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Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class [Kindle Edition]

Jacob S. Hacker , Paul Pierson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
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Book Description

A groundbreaking work that identifies the real culprit behind one of the great economic crimes of our time— the growing inequality of incomes between the vast majority of Americans and the richest of the rich.

We all know that the very rich have gotten a lot richer these past few decades while most Americans haven’t. In fact, the exorbitantly paid have continued to thrive during the current economic crisis, even as the rest of Americans have continued to fall behind. Why do the “haveit- alls” have so much more? And how have they managed to restructure the economy to reap the lion’s share of the gains and shift the costs of their new economic playground downward, tearing new holes in the safety net and saddling all of us with increased debt and risk? Lots of so-called experts claim to have solved this great mystery, but no one has really gotten to the bottom of it—until now.

In their lively and provocative Winner-Take-All Politics, renowned political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson demonstrate convincingly that the usual suspects—foreign trade and financial globalization, technological changes in the workplace, increased education at the top—are largely innocent of the charges against them. Instead, they indict an unlikely suspect and take us on an entertaining tour of the mountain of evidence against the culprit. The guilty party is American politics. Runaway inequality and the present economic crisis reflect what government has done to aid the rich and what it has not done to safeguard the interests of the middle class. The winner-take-all economy is primarily a result of winner-take-all politics.

In an innovative historical departure, Hacker and Pierson trace the rise of the winner-take-all economy back to the late 1970s when, under a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, a major transformation of American politics occurred. With big business and conservative ideologues organizing themselves to undo the regulations and progressive tax policies that had helped ensure a fair distribution of economic rewards, deregulation got under way, taxes were cut for the wealthiest, and business decisively defeated labor in Washington. And this transformation continued under Reagan and the Bushes as well as under Clinton, with both parties catering to the interests of those at the very top. Hacker and Pierson’s gripping narration of the epic battles waged during President Obama’s first two years in office reveals an unpleasant but catalyzing truth: winner-take-all politics, while under challenge, is still very much with us.

Winner-Take-All Politics—part revelatory history, part political analysis, part intellectual journey— shows how a political system that traditionally has been responsive to the interests of the middle class has been hijacked by the superrich. In doing so, it not only changes how we think about American politics, but also points the way to rebuilding a democracy that serves the interests of the many rather than just those of the wealthy few.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Perhaps you haven't heard: over the last 30 years the middle class has shriveled while the wealthy enjoy the skewed economics of the gilded age. The authors do their best to blow the dust off of their subject by taking a close look at this political "30 year war" and carefully parsing its roots. Corporate coalitions, lobbying, tax policies geared to the wealthy, and the extreme use of the "rule of 60" filibuster have tipped the scales and ultimately heaped blame onto the majority party. While Government can affect the distribution of wealth, it doesn't catch up with economic realities in time, and a changing Washington blocks attempts at reform. Where moderates used to rule the swing vote, now radical conservatives have taken hold. Unions are powerless, public interest groups prevail, and Christian conservatives drag Republicans ever right. Meanwhile, voters remain poorly informed. Though they never shed the sheen of "old news," Hacker and Pierson end on a note of optimism: the middle class can take the majority again with a "politics of renewal" shepherded in on a wave of "mass engagement" and "elite leadership."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

How did the widening gap between haves and have-nots—even worse, the haves and have-mores—come about? In the past 30 years, the top 1 percent have enjoyed 36 percent of all the income growth generated in the U.S. economy. Treating the growing socioeconomic gap like a whodunit, Hacker and Pierson painstakingly detail the gap between the superrich and everyone else. They paint a portrait of a nation that has fallen behind other developed nations in the widening income gap among its citizens. Worse, the wealth gap cannot be explained away by a lack of education or skills. Even among the well educated, a chasm has developed between the middle class and the wealthy. Whodunit? The U.S. government, which details changes in taxation and public policy, particularly regarding the financial markets, which have favored the wealthy at the expense of others over the last 30 years. Finally, they consider the long-term implications of this troubling trend and offer some encouraging signs—health care and financial reform, however anemic—and a growing discontent with the status quo. --Vanessa Bush

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
443 of 462 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transforming American politics September 16, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a transformative book. It's the best book on American politics that I've read since Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm. Not all of it is original (the authors seek to synthesize others' work as well as present their own, but provide due credit where credit is due). Not all of its arguments are fully supported (the authors provide a strong circumstantial case to support their argument, but don't have smoking gun evidence on many of the relevant causal relations). But it should transform the ways in which we think about and debate the political economy of the US.

The underlying argument is straightforward. The sources of American economic inequality are largely political - the result of deliberate political decisions to shape markets in ways that benefit the already-privileged at the expense of a more-or-less unaware public. The authors weave a historical narrative which Kevin Drum (who says the same things that I am saying about the book's importance) summarizes cogently here. This is not necessarily original - a lot of leftwing and left-of-center writers have been making similar claims for a long time. What is new is both the specific evidence that the authors use, and their conscious and deliberate effort to reframe what is important about American politics.

First - the evidence. Hacker and Pierson draw on work by economists like Picketty and Saez on the substantial growth in US inequality (and on comparisons between the US and other countries), but argue that many of the explanations preferred by economists (the effects of technological change on demand for skills) simply don't explain what is going on.
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137 of 145 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars (RIch) Winners Take All September 14, 2010
Format:Hardcover
Many people have observed that American politics and the American economy reached some kind of turning point around 1980, which conveniently marks the election of Ronald Reagan. Some also pointed to other factors such as the deregulation of stock brokerage commissions in 1975 and the high inflation of the 1970s. Other analysts have put the turning point back in 1968, when Richard Nixon became President on the back of a wave of white, middle-class resentment against the 1960s. Hacker and Pierson, however, point the finger at the 1970s. As they describe in Chapter 4, the Nixon presidency saw the high-water market of the regulatory state; the demise of traditional liberalism occurred during the Carter administration, despite Democratic control of Washington, when highly organized business interests were able to torpedo the Democratic agenda and begin the era of cutting taxes for the rich that apparently has not yet ended today.

Why then? Not, as popular commentary would have it, because public opinion shifted. Hacker and Pierson cite studies showing that public opinion on issues such as inequality has not shifted over the past thirty years; most people still think society is too unequal and that taxes should be used to reduce inequality. What has shifted is that Congressmen are now much more receptive to the opinions of the rich, and there is actually a negative correlation between their positions and the preferences of their poor constituents (p. 111). Citing Martin Gilens, they write, "When well-off people strongly supported a policy change, it had almost three times the chance of becoming law as when they strongly opposed it. When median-income people strongly supported a policy change, it had hardly any greater chance of becoming law than when they strongly opposed it" (p. 112).
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115 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Book September 21, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Even if you disagree with the implications, the book is very convincing that:

1. The richer you are, the more you have benefited from economic changes over the past 30 years.
2. The poorer you are, the worse your economic life has become over the past 30 years.
3. The previous two conclusions are largely the result of government policy.
4. If we want to avoid becoming a Latin American economy where the rich get richer and the rest suffer, we need to change government policies.

I am convinced that these 4 "facts" represent our current reality.... and that we need to address them. The book is required reading for anyone interested in federal tax or regulatory policy.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Culprit: Enormous and Growing Inequality of Incomes September 17, 2010
Format:Hardcover
In Winner-Take-All Politics, two political science professors explain what caused the Middle Class to become vulnerable. Understanding this phenomenon is the Holy Grail of contemporary economics in the U.S.

Some may feel this book is just as polarizing as the current state of politics and media in America. The decades-long decline in income taxes of wealthy individuals is cited in detail. Wage earners are usually subjected to the FICA taxes against all their ordinary income (all or almost their entire total income). But the top wealthy Americans may have only a small percentage (or none) of their income subjected to FICA taxes. Thus Warren Buffett announced that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Buffett has cited income inequality for "poisoning democracy."

When you search the `Net for Buffett quotes on inequality, you get a lot of results showing how controversial he became for stating the obvious. Drawing attention to the inequity of the tax regime won him powerful enemies. Those same people are not going to like the authors for writing Winner-Take-All. They say these political science people are condescending because they presume to tell people their political interests.

Many studies of poverty show how economic and political policies generally favor the rich throughout the world, some of which are cited in this book. Military spending and financial bailouts in particular favor the wealthy. Authors Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson document a long U.S. policy trend favoring wealthy Americans. This trend resulted in diminished middle class access to quality healthcare and education, making it harder to keep up with the wealthy in relative terms.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently researched, and chock full of great information
I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to learn how this country got to where it is. The disappearance of the middle class and its voice and rise of the 1% is well documented here. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Madhu
5.0 out of 5 stars WAKE UP CALL
Authors did their homework and showed me how politics/policy/money are so intertwined. As far as I can tell it is the corporations and $ that run America - the middle class and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ellen J. Goodman
5.0 out of 5 stars Why we are here
An amazing account of the history and politics that have attempted to eliminate the middle class, and a lesson for Democrats on how not to be complicit and enabling.
Published 2 months ago by Greg
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
If you wanted to know the roots of the issues that plaque the Federal government, as well as states and larger cities, this is the read you need. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jimmy Z
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book
The truth that the Media wont tell us,And the 2 party's cover up and throw us under the bus for the rich and powerful.
Published 4 months ago by Dan
5.0 out of 5 stars Best politics that money can buy ...
Explains how, for the last 30 years, the deck has been stacked and the middle class came to be saddled with the costly financial business risks of the upper 1%. Read more
Published 4 months ago by JC
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
somewhat scary look at what has happened in our country in the last 30 years. everyone should read this before they vote.
Published 4 months ago by james
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read!
Male White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) are fighting a rear-guard action as they become the minority in the US population. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Robert E. Diggs
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for us all concerned about our future.
That book should be read by all Americans. His findings are backed by data through extensive research. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jean Hess
1.0 out of 5 stars Wow, what a great workout
The Jumping to conclusions part was probably the best for me personally. But the Yoga-like twisting of the statistics was also quite helpful. Read more
Published 5 months ago by John Spengler
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