457 of 476 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2010
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. First, they do not explain why inequality is so top-heavy - that is, why so many of the economic benefits go to a tiny, tiny minority of individuals among those with apparently similar skills. Second, they do not explain cross national variation - why the differences in the level of inequality among advanced industrialized countries, all of which have gone through more-or-less similar technological shocks, are so stark. While Hacker and Pierson agree that technological change is part of the story, they suggest that the ways in which this is channeled in different national contexts is crucial. And it is here that politics plays a key role.
Many economists are skeptical that politics explains the outcome, suggesting that conventional forms of political intervention are not big enough to have such dramatic consequences. Hacker and Pierson's reply implicitly points to a blind spot of many economists - they argue that markets are not `natural,' but instead are constituted by government policy and political institutions. If institutions are designed one way, they result in one form of market activity, whereas if they are designed another way, they will result in very different outcomes. Hence, results that appear like `natural' market operations to a neo-classical economist may in fact be the result of political decisions, or indeed of deliberate political inaction. Hacker and Pierson cite e.g. the decision of the Clinton administration not to police derivatives as an example of how political coalitions may block reforms in ways that have dramatic economic consequences.
Hence, Hacker and Pierson turn to the lessons of ongoing political science research. This is both a strength and a weakness. I'll talk about the weakness below - but I found the account of the current research convincing, readable and accurate. It builds on both Hacker and Pierson's own work and the work of others (e.g. the revisionist account of American party structures from Zaller et al. and the work of Bartels). This original body of work is not written in ways that make it easily accessible to non-professionals - while Bartels' book was both excellent and influential, it was not an easy read. Winner-Take-All Politics pulls off the tricky task of both presenting the key arguments underlying work without distorting them and integrating them into a highly readable narrative.
As noted above, the book sets out (in my view quite successfully) to reframe how we should think about American politics. It downplays the importance of electoral politics, without dismissing it, in favor of a focus on policy-setting, institutions, and organization.
First and most important - policy-setting. Hacker and Pierson argue that too many books on US politics focus on the electoral circus. Instead, they should be focusing on the politics of policy-setting. Government is important, after all, because it makes policy decisions which affect people's lives. While elections clearly play an important role in determining who can set policy, they are not the only moment of policy choice, nor necessarily the most important. The actual processes through which policy gets made are poorly understood by the public, in part because the media is not interested in them (in Hacker and Pierson's words, "[f]or the media, governing often seems like something that happens in the off-season").
And to understand the actual processes of policy-making, we need to understand institutions. Institutions make it more or less easy to get policy through the system, by shaping veto points. If one wants to explain why inequality happens, one needs to look not only at the decisions which are made, but the decisions which are not made, because they are successfully opposed by parties or interest groups. Institutional rules provide actors with opportunities both to try and get policies that they want through the system and to stymie policies that they do not want to see enacted. Most obviously in the current administration, the existence of the filibuster supermajority requirement, and the willingness of the Republican party to use it for every significant piece of legislation that it can be applied to means that we are seeing policy change through "drift." Over time, policies become increasingly disconnected from their original purposes, or actors find loopholes or ambiguities through which they can subvert the intention of a policy (for example - the favorable tax regime under which hedge fund managers are able to treat their income at a low tax rate). If it is impossible to rectify policies to deal with these problems, then drift leads to policy change - Hacker and Pierson suggest that it is one of the most important forms of such change in the US.
Finally - the role of organizations. Hacker and Pierson suggest that organizations play a key role in pushing through policy change (and a very important role in elections too). They typically trump voters (who lack information, are myopic, are not focused on the long term) in shaping policy decisions. Here, it is important that the organizational landscape of the US is dramatically skewed. There are many very influential organizations pushing the interests of business and of the rich. Politicians on both sides tend to pay a lot of attention to them, because of the resources that they have. There are far fewer - and weaker - organizations on the other side of the fight, especially given the continuing decline of unions (which has been hastened by policy decisions taken and not taken by Republicans and conservative Democrats).
In Hacker and Pierson's account, these three together account for the systematic political bias towards greater inequality. In simplified form: Organizations - and battles between organizations over policy as well as elections - are the structuring conflicts of American politics. The interests of the rich are represented by far more powerful organizations than the interests of the poor and middle class. The institutions of the US provide these organizations and their political allies with a variety of tools to promote new policies that reshape markets in their interests. This account is in some ways neo-Galbraithian (Hacker and Pierson refer in passing to the notion of `countervailing powers'). But while it lacks Galbraith's magisterial and mellifluous prose style, it is much better than he was on the details.
Even so (and here begin the criticisms) - it is not detailed enough. The authors set the book up as a whodunit: Who or what is responsible for the gross inequalities of American economic life? They show that the other major suspects have decent alibis (they may inadvertently have helped the culprit, but they did not carry out the crime itself. They show that their preferred culprit had the motive and, apparently, the means. They find good circumstantial evidence that he did it. But they do not find a smoking gun. For me, the culprit (the American political system) is like OJ. As matters stand, I'm pretty sure that he committed the crime. But I'm not sure that he could be convicted in a court of law, and I could be convinced that I was wrong, if major new exculpatory evidence was uncovered.
The lack of any smoking gun (or, alternatively, good evidence against a smoking gun) is the direct result of a major failure of American intellectual life. As the authors observe elsewhere, there is no field of American political economy. Economists have typically treated the economy as non-political. Political scientists have typically not concerned themselves with the American economy. There are recent efforts to change this, coming from economists like Paul Krugman and political scientists like Larry Bartels, but they are still in their infancy. We do not have the kinds of detailed and systematic accounts of the relationship between political institutions and economic order for the US that we have e.g. for most mainland European countries. We will need a decade or more of research to build the foundations of one.
Hence, while Hacker and Pierson show that political science can get us a large part of the way, it cannot get us as far as they would like us to go, for the simple reason that political science is not well developed enough yet. We can identify the causal mechanisms intervening between some specific political decisions and non-decisions and observed outcomes in the economy. We cannot yet provide a really satisfactory account of how these particular mechanisms work across a wider variety of settings and hence produce the general forms of inequality that they point to. Nor do we yet have a really good account of the precise interactions between these mechanisms and other mechanisms.
None of this is to discount the importance of this book. If it has the impact it deserves, it will transform American public arguments about politics and policymaking. I cannot see how someone who was fair minded could come away from reading this book and not be convinced that politics plays a key role in the enormous economic inequality that we see. And even if it is aimed at a general audience, it also challenges academics and researchers in economics, political science and economic sociology both to re-examine their assumptions about how economics and politics work, and to figure out ways better to engage with the key political debates of our time as Hacker and Pierson have done. If you can, buy it.
141 of 149 people found the following review helpful
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). In other words, it isn't public opinion, or the median voter, that matters; it's what the rich want.
That shift occurred in the 1970s because businesses and the super-rich began a process of political organization in the early 1970s that enabled them to pool their wealth and contacts to achieve dominant political influence (described in Chapter 5). To take one of the many statistics they provide, the number of companies with registered lobbyists in Washington grew from 175 in 1971 to nearly 2,500 in 1982 (p. 118). Money pouring into lobbying firms, political campaigns, and ideological think tanks created the organizational muscle that gave the Republicans a formidable institutional advantage by the 1980s. The Democrats have only reduced that advantage in the past two decades by becoming more like Republicans-more business-friendly, more anti-tax, and more dependent on money from the super-rich. And that dependency has severely limited both their ability and their desire to fight back on behalf of the middle class (let alone the poor), which has few defenders in Washington.
At a high level, the lesson of Winner-Take-All Politics is similar to that of 13 Bankers: when looking at economic phenomena, be they the financial crisis or the vast increase in inequality of the past thirty years, it's politics that matters, not just abstract economic forces. One of the singular victories of the rich has been convincing the rest of us that their disproportionate success has been due to abstract economic forces beyond anyone's control (technology, globalization, etc.), not old-fashioned power politics. Hopefully the financial crisis and the recession that has ended only on paper (if that) will provide the opportunity to teach people that there is no such thing as abstract economic forces; instead, there are different groups using the political system to fight for larger shares of society's wealth. And one group has been winning for over thirty years.
118 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2010
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.
53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
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. Further, once people have lost basic foundations of security, they are less willing and able to take on more risk in terms of investing or starting a business.
The rise of special interests has been at the expense of the middle class, according to the authors. Former President Carter talked about this and was ridiculed. Since then government has grown further from most of us. Even federal employees are not like most of us anymore. In its August 10, 2010 issue, USA Today discussed government salaries: "At a time when workers' pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees' average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn, a USA TODAY analysis finds."
An excellent documentary showing how difficult it is to address income inequality is One Percent, by Jamie Johnson of the Johnson & Johnson family. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed shows examples of what can happen when a society disregards a coming disaster until too late. I hope that Winner-Take-All will prompt people to demand more of elected officials and to arrest the growing income gap for the sake of our democracy.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
No one should doubt the rising income inequality in America, which the authors trace back to the late 1970s since the latter part of Carter's presidency in what they call the "30 Year War". Zachary Roth, in a March 4th Time magazine article stated "A slew of conservative economists of unimpeachable academic credentials--including Martin Feldstein of Harvard, Glenn Hubbard, who was President Bush's top economic adviser, and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke--have all acknowledged that inequality is on the rise."
And why should we care that most of the after tax income growth since 30 years ago has gone the way of the richest Americans in a "winner-take-all" economy? Because as Supreme Court justice biographer Melvin Urofsky stated, "in a democratic society the existence of large centers of private power is dangerous to the continuing vitality of a free people." (p. 81) Because if unchecked, a new economic aristocracy may replace the old hereditary aristocracy America's Founders fought to defeat (p. 298). Because unequal societies are unhappy societies, and inequality can foster individual resentment that may lead to a pervasive decline in civility and erosion of culture.
And why should we be concerned that this trend in rising inequality may not experience the period of renewal the authors are optimistic about? Because unlike the shock of the 1930s' Great Depression that served as the impetus for the politics of middle class democracy, the potential shockwaves of the 2008 Great Recession were tempered by massive government stimulus, resulting in no meaningful financial reform, and an extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy. And because of the lottery mentality of a large swath of the population which opposes tax increases on the rich. One day, they or their children too can share in the American dream. According to an October 2000 Time-CNN poll, 19 percent of Americans were convinced they belonged to the richest 1 percent. Another 20 percent thought they'd make the rank of the top 1 percent at some point in their lives. That's quite a turnover in the top 1 percent category to accommodate 20 percent of the population passing through.
Mr. Hacker and Mr. Pierson have put together powerful arguments on the root causes of income inequality in the U.S., its political and economic ramifications, and to a lesser extent, a roadmap to returning democracy to the masses. This is an eye opening and disturbing, yet informative book, even for readers who may disagree with their opinions.
38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2011
A bit hokey and repetitive for the first couple chapters. Much better after that. Stick with it if you're interested in the subject.
This book does a very good job explaining how and why certain special interest groups (notably those that represent the wealthiest .1%) have come to have such a stranglehold on government, particularly Congress. I come away with a clear understanding of how the wealthiest citizens are able to exert their influence over legislative policy and enforcement at the federal level.
What I would have liked more of are better explanations of the mechanisms through which government policies exacerbate the winner-take-all economy. Tax policy (rates and loopholes) is the most obvious answer, and the book provides plenty of stats on the regression of tax policy over the past 30 years.
But complicated, interesting, and largely missing from public discourse is why PRE-TAX incomes have become so much more radically skewed during that time. This is certainly touched on - the authors are deliberate in saying it's not JUST tax policy that's contributing to increased inequality - but I would've liked much more analysis of the other policy-driven factors. "Deregulation" is too general an explanation to paint a clear picture.
The authors make it clear that they believe the increasing divide in pre-tax incomes (the winner-take-all economy) is not the inevitable result of technological changes and of differences in education ("the usual suspects"), but of policy decisions made at the state and, especially, federal levels. Personally, I wasn't fully convinced that technological change has little or nothing to do with the skew (though I agree that while education goes a long way toward explaining the gap between poor and middle class, it doesn't explain much of the gap between middle class and super rich). But I do believe, as they do, that public policy plays a large role in influencing the extent of inequality in pre-tax incomes, even beyond more obvious market-impacting factors like union influence, and mandates including the minimum wage, restrictions on pollution, workplace safety and fairness laws, etc.
Off the top of my head, here are some regulatory issues that affect market outcomes and can influence the extent of winner-take-all effects in the marketplace (a few of these may have been mentioned in the book, but none were discussed in detail):
- the enforcement of antitrust laws and other means of encouraging pro-consumer competition in the marketplace, such as cracking down on explicit or implicit price-fixing and collusion schemes [concentration of market share and/or collusion will certainly contribute to winner-take-all effects at the expense of consumers, small businesses and the dynamics of the economy as a whole.]
- regulations that seek to minimize conflicts of interest in the corporate world, particularly those with far-reaching effects [i.e. some policy makers and regulators are in a position to decide whether it makes sense for bond ratings agencies with the authority they have over so many investment decisions to be paid, in negotiable fashion, by the companies whose bonds they rate. i'd wager the status quo exacerbates winner-take-all and not in a way that rewards the right things - but i'd be glad to hear an intellectually honest counter-argument]
- net neutrality [should internet service providers be allowed to favor their corporate partners' websites to the point that eventually you'll no longer be able to publish a blog and expect that anyone will be able to access it expediently?]
- insurance regulation [should we rely on reputation threat alone to discourage insurer's from stiffing their policyholders' legitimate claims? status quo we don't, but there are those who argue against regulation of insurers]
- broad macroeconomic goals, such as relative balance between imports and exports, or attempts to encourage educational institutions to help align workforce skills with projected job opportunities for instance - enforced preferably through various incentives rather than mandates [the U.S. isn't big on this at the moment but many other rich countries are, in varying forms]
- preferential treatment of small businesses to help them compete with "the big boys", thereby increasing competition in the market and job-creation
- preferential treatment of businesses who do various things deemed to be in the public interest
- intellectual property laws (the extent of patent, copyright, trademark rights)
- securities law, including bans on insider trading, front-running, etc
- food safety and labeling laws
- allocation and extent of government-sponsored R&D in industries deemed important or potentially beneficial to the public
- restrictions on what can be bought and sold [almost no one would argue judge's decisions should be for sale to the highest bidder. how about cigarette sales to kids, should that be allowed? heroin to anyone? spots in the class of a competitive public university?]
And many more. I know regulatory issues like that play huge roles in the distribution of pre-tax "market" incomes, but I'd like to have a better understanding of how, and also to be better able to articulate how in response to those who seem to believe taxes (and perhaps obvious restrictions, such as on pollution or the minimum wage) are the only significant means through which governments influence wealth disparities.
There wasn't a whole lot of discussion of these or similar regulatory issues in the book. I would like to see another edition, or perhaps another book entirely, that does. Please let me know if you have any recommendations.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2010
This is a tremendously depressing book. I just read The Road, and Johnny got his Gun, and thought a nice non-fiction read would lift my spirits. This book was exponentially worse.
I am generally convinced by the arguments the authors put forth that the principal deterioration of the middle class is the result of thirty years of targeted organized interests that favor the wealthy. For me, the propositions in this book, of policy being the core element to shape an economy, are tangential to the theories of complexity economics espoused upon in Eric D. Beinhocker's Origin of Wealth. Winner-Take-All focuses on the reasons why policy decisions are being made that are not necessarily in the long run economic interests of the country. The book provides damning evidence of the growing income gap between the upper 1% and everyone else and correlates it nicely with events that have transpired since 1970. The book makes strong, not easily dismissed, arguments.
Although I liked the book, it is not perfect. The authors state the term "Winner-Take-All" about fifty thousand times throughout the duration of the book which makes it seem like they're selling a book I just bought. The book is undoubtedly liberal, which is great but I would have liked to see, from a liberal point of view, the opposing side's argument. There is a sense at the end of the book that the reason republicans politic the way they do is out of pure selfishness. This may be true, but there wasn't much, if any, attempt to divine the motives for the march to supply-side economics and political gridlock. I am truly interested in the motives. It is a hard pill to swallow that republicans are simply just evil.
The result of reading this book is that I'm pretty much done voting. There's really not much point. If I want to affect political outcomes, I need to buy them. I need to become fabulously wealthy and just buy what I want politicians to do. I see this with Obama, which I was a supporter of. The public option, strong regulatory reform, immigration reform, climate change, infrastructure; all issues that citizens find meaningful to the nation's long term prosperity, and all a no-go because vested interests short-term gains are at stake. And the coup de grace is that Obama has given in to republican stonewalling and is about to let the Bush tax cuts continue for the top bracket. Other issues you may be able to blame on the realities of congress, but this time Obama himself directly negotiated with the republicans for a bill that, given the historical perspective I've acquired from Winner-Take-All, is ultimately a disastrous attack on the long-term prosperity of the middle class.
A useful, but sad book.
Edit: Mixed a word (expire/continue). Cleared up references.
47 of 57 people found the following review helpful
The thirty-eight biggest Wall Street companies earned $140 billion in 2009, a record that all taxpayers who contributed to their bailouts can be proud of. Among those, Goldman Sachs paid its employees an average $600,000, also a record, and at least partially attributable to our bailout of AIG, which promptly gave much of the money to Goldman. Prior to that, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned an average of $892 million in 2007. "Winner-Take-All Politics" is framed as a detective story about how we got to inequality levels where the top 300,000 (0.1%) receive over 20% of national income, vs. 13.5% for the bottom 180 million (60% of the population).
Between 1947 and 1973, real family median income essentially doubled, and the growth percentage was virtually the same for all income levels. In the mid-1970s, however, economic inequality began to increase sharply and middle-incomes lagged. Increased female workforce participation rates and more overtime helped cushion the stagnation or decline for many (they also increased the risk of layoffs/family), then growing credit card debt shielded many families from reality. Unfortunately, expectations of stable full-time employment also began shrinking, part-time, temporary, and economic risk-bearing (eg. taxi drivers leasing vehicles and paying the fuel costs; deliverymen 'buying' routes and trucks) work increased, workers covered by employer-sponsored health insurance fell from 69% in 1979 to 56% in 2004, and retirement coverage was either been dropped entirely or mostly converted to much less valuable fix-contribution plans for private sector employees. Some exceptions have occurred that benefit the middle and lower-income segments - Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Medicaid, and Medicare were initiated or expanded, but these have not blunted the overall trend. Conversely, welfare reform, incarceration rates rising 6X between 1970 and 2000, bankruptcy reform, and increased tax audits for EITC recipients have also added to their burden, Social Security is being challenged again (despite stock market declines, enormous transition costs, and vastly increased overhead costs and fraud opportunity), and 2009's universal health care reform will be aggressively challenged both in the courts and Washington.
Authors Hacker and Pierson contend that growing inequality is not the 'natural' product of market rewards, but mostly the artificial result of deliberate government policies, strongly influenced by industry lobbyists and donations, new and expanded conservative 'think tanks,' and inadequate media coverage that focused more on the 'horse race' aspects of various initiatives than their content and impact. First came the capital gains tax cuts under President Carter, then deregulation of the financial industry under Clinton, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and the financial bailouts in 2008-09. The authors contend that if the 1970 tax structure remained today, the top gains would be considerably less.
But what about the fact that in 1965 CEOs of large corporations only earned about 24X the average worker, compared to 300+X now? Hacker and Pierson largely ignore the role of board-room politics and malfeasance that have mostly allowed managers to serve themselves with payment without regard to performance and out of proportion to other nations. In 2006, the 20 highest-paid European managers made an average $12.5 million, only one-third as much as the 20 highest-earning U.S. executives. Yet, the Europeans led larger firms - $65.5 billion in sales vs. $46.5 billion for the U.S. Asian CEOs commonly make only 10X-15X what their base level employees make. Jiang Jianqing, Chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (world's largest), made $234,700 in 2008, less than 2% of the $19.6 million awarded Jamie Dimon, CEO of the world's fourth-largest bank, JPMorgan Chase.
"Winner-Take-All Politics" also provides readers with the composition of 2004 taxpayers in the top 0.1% of earners (including capital gains). Non-finance executives comprised 41% of the group, finance professionals 18.4%, lawyers 6%, real estate personages 5%, physicians 4%, entrepreneurs 4%, and arts and sports stars 3%. The authors assert that this shows education and skills levels are not the great dividers most everyone credits them to be - the vast majority of Americans losing ground to the super-rich includes many well-educated individuals, while the super-rich includes many without a college education (Sheldon Adelson, Paul Allen, Edgar Bronfman, Jack Kent Cook, Michael Dell, Walt Disney, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Wayne Huizenga, Steve Jobs, Rush Limbaugh, Steve Wozniak, and Mark Zuckerberg).
Authors Hacker and Pierson are political science professors and it is understandable that they emphasize political causes (PACs, greater recruitment of evangelical voters, lobbying - eg. $500 million on health care lobbying in 2009, filibusters that allow senators representing just 10% of the population to stop legislation and make the other side look incompetent, etc.) for today's income inequality. However, their claim that foreign trade is "largely innocent" as a cause is neither substantiated nor logical. Foreign trade as practiced today pads corporate profits and executive bonuses while destroying/threatening millions of American jobs and lowering/holding down the incomes of those affected. Worse yet, the authors don't even mention the impact of millions of illegal aliens depressing wage rates while taking jobs from Americans, nor do they address the canard that tax cuts for and spending by the super-wealthy are essential to our economic success (refuted by Moody's Analytics and Austan Goolsbee, Business Week - 9/13/2010). They're also annoyingly biased towards unions, ignoring their constant strikes and abuses in the 1960s and 1970s, major contributions to G.M., Chrysler, and legacy airline bankruptcies, and current school district, local, and state financial difficulties.
Bottom-Line: It is a sad commentary on the American political system that growing and record levels of inequality are being met by populist backlash against income redistribution and expanding trust in government, currently evidenced by those supporting extending tax cuts for the rich and railing against reforming health care to reduce expenditures from 17.3+% of GDP to more internationally competitive levels (4-6%) while improving patient outcomes. "Winner-Take-All Politics" is interesting reading, provides some essential data, and point out some evidence of the inadequacy of many voters. However, the authors miss the 'elephant in the room' - American-style democracy is not viable when at most 10% of citizens are 'proficient' per functional literacy tests ([...]), and only a small proportion of them have the time and access required to sift through the flood of half-truths, lies, and irrelevancies to objectively evaluate 2,000+ page bills and other political activity. (Ideology-dominated economic professionals and short-term thinking human rights advocates are two others.)
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2010
This book basically argues that Wall Street controls both political parties through the use of massive campaign contributions and lobbyists who buy off both the Republicans and Democrats in the White House,Senate and House.This is essentially correct but obvious.Anyone can go back to the 1976 Jimmy Carter campaign and simply verify that the majority of his campaign funds and advisors came from Wall Street.This identical conclusion also holds with respect to Ronald Reagan,George H W Bush,Bill Clinton,George W Bush and Barack Obama.The only Presidents/Presidential candidates not dominated by Wall Street since 1976 were Gerald Ford,Walter Mondale,Ross Perot,Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan.
For instance,it is common knowledge to anyone who carefully checks to see where the money is coming from that Wall Street financiers ,hedgefunds,private equity firms and giant commercial banks are calling the shots.For example,one could simply read the July 9,2007 issue of FORTUNE magazine to discover who the major backers of John McCain,Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were.One could also have read Business Week(2-25-2008) or the Los Angeles Times of 3-21-2008.Through February, 2008 the major donors to the McCain campaign were 1)Merrill Lynch,2) Citigroup,3)Goldman Sachs,4)J P Morgan Chase and 5)Credit Suisse.The major donors to the Hillary Clinton campaign were 1)Goldman Sachs ,2)Morgan Stanley,3)Citigroup,4)Lehman Brothers and 5)J P Morgan Chase.Guess who were the major donors to the Obama campaign ? If you guessed 1)Goldman Sachs,2)UBS Ag,3)J P Morgan Chase ,4)Lehman Brothers and 5)Citigroup,then you are correct.
It didn't matter who became President-Hillary Clinton,Barack Obama or John McCain.All three had been throughly vetted by Wall Street.The campaign staffs of all three candidates ,especially their economic and finance advisors,were all Wall Street connected.Wall Street would have been bailed out regardless of which party won the 2008 election.
Obama is not going to change anything substantially in the financial markets .Neither is Rep. Barney Frank,Sen. Chris Dodd ,Sen. Kerry or Sen. Schumer,etc.Nor is any Republican candidate going to make any changes,simply because the Republican Party is dominated even more so by Wall Street(100%) than the Democratic Party(80%) .The logical solution would be to support a Third Party candidate,for example, Ross Perot .
One aspect of the book is deficient. True conservatives like Ross Perot,Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs have been warning about the grave dangers of hallowing out and downsizing the American Manufacturing -Industrial sector,with the consequent offshoring and/or loss of many millions of American jobs,for about 20 years at the same time that the " financial services " sector has exploded from 3% of the total service sector in 1972 to just under 40% by 2007.This is what is causing the great shrinkage in the middle class in America .
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2010
The book offers a revealing review and analysis of the politics behind America's shift from a nation of middle-class opportunity to one of Über-rich privilege. Convincingly tossing aside the usual culprits--globalization, technology, educational decline, China, etc.--the authors illustrate the bipartisan nature of this swing in economic reality, with flashpoints occurring in the Carter and Clinton administrations when Democrats held sway, not during the popularly suspected Reagan and Bush-I regimes.
The egregious role of money in our political system--surely to be amplified following the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unfettered use of corporate funds in political campaigns--looms large in the analysis. It helps explain why both parties have abandoned economic fairness in favor of the have-it-alls, but party strategy and effectiveness on the ground also have played their role.
Although much content is disheartening for those concerned with decency and fairness in the economic lives of all Americans (and amazingly light in terms of prescriptions for change), it is certainly important fodder for those who favor a Congress concerned about the middle-class instead of the already very rich.