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Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class Paperback – March 15, 2011


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Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class + Capital in the Twenty-First Century + The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416588701
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416588702
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

This book is very informative, and well written.
Patrick J. O'Callaghan
It will probably make you mad unless you are one of the few filthy rich people that are laughing all the way to the bank.
R. Johnson
The book details a history of how we got where we are at in this country, politically and economically.
David S. Rush

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

446 of 465 people found the following review helpful By Henry J. Farrell on 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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141 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Great Faulkner's Ghost TOP 500 REVIEWER on 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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117 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Anthony M. Zipple on 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 By Citizen John TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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