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Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

3.6 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691136639
ISBN-10: 0691136637
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2009 Gladys M. Kammerer Award, American Political Science Association

Winner of the 2009 Leon D. Epstein Outstanding Book Award, Political Organizations and Parties Section of the American Political Science Association

"[I recommend] Larry M. Bartels's Unequal Democracy. Especially at this time every thoughtful American needs to learn as much as possible about the relationship of politics to economics."--Bill Clinton, Daily Beast

"Obama can connect with voters on the economy by using history as a guideline. He should start by reading Unequal Democracy, by Princeton academic Larry Bartels. The non-partisan and non-political Bartels points out devastatingly after an exhaustive study of Democratic and Republican presidents that the Democrats built a better economy and a more just society."--James Carville, CNN

"Many Americans know that there are characteristic policy differences between the [Republican and Democratic] parties. But few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, Unequal Democracy, by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. Understanding them might help voters see what could be at stake, economically speaking, in November."--Alan Blinder, New York Times

"Bartels is the political scientist of the moment. Along with Obama, Bill Clinton also read and recommends Unequal Democracy. [M]ost people on the street could have told Bartels that the working poor fare better under Democrats . . . but the importance of these and some other findings in the book . . . is that they use scholarly methods to provide political explanations for economic problems."--Michael Tomasky, New York Review of Books

"A provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists."--Dan Balz, Washington Post

"A short review cannot convey the rich variety of arguments and data Bartels deploys in making his case. Some of his analysis focuses on broadly characterized partisan differences, some on high profile examples such as the politics of the minimum wage and the estate tax. He will have done a considerable service if the next time we start thinking about economics we also think about politics. Bartels shows that social issues do not create as strong a headwind against class-based voting as is often assumed and that lower income voters do tend to vote Democratic while upper-income voters do tend to vote Republican. Unequal Democracy offers an important case for why this might be."--Robert Grafstein, Science

"[A] provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's leading political scientists. One of Bartels's most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters. Republican presidents...have often generated significant economic growth rates in presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not."--Dan Balz, Washington Post

"[E]xtraordinarily insightful."--Bob Braun, Newark Star-Ledger

"Unequal Democracy makes the choice voters face clear: Democratic policies spread the wealth and Republican policies protect the wealthy."--Julian E. Zelizer, The Huffington Post

"[Bartels] is correct in drawing attention to the tension between the egalitarian values that Americans hold and their apparent toleration for growing economic inequality. And at every step of the argument, he defines and analyzes interesting and relevant evidence."--Richard R. John, Forum

"Prodigiously researched and cogently argued, Bartels's timely work should interest academics and lay readers alike."--Blake A. Ellis, Journal of Southern History

"The book is exemplary throughout in its transparency with regard to the data and Bartels's analytic strategy for using them, in its attention to alternative explanations for a given outcome, and in its balance between not over-reaching and asserting a clear, controversial, and important thesis. . . . Full of evidence, insights, and surprises. . . . The book is never less than provocative and is often revelatory."--Jennifer Hochschild, Perspectives on Politics

"For a book targeted at both academic and nonacademic audiences, Bartels strikes a nice balance between exhaustive empirical rigor and accessibility. . . . Bartels gives us a wide-ranging framework for thinking about the ways that citizens interact with the political system, and in so doing maps an agenda for the next generation of research on American democracy in action."--Nicholas J. G. Winter, Public Opinion Quarterly

"Larry Bartels's Unequal Democracy is a major landmark in political scientists' efforts to grapple with inequality. . . . Bartels has done so much, and has done it so well, that anyone who quibbles with his interpretations or suggests that he has left important questions unanswered is likely to seem ungenerous, even churlish. . . . Unequal Democracy should be taken as a major contribution and as a touchstone for further research."--Benjamin I. Page, Perspectives on Politics


"If voters really want real change, rather than Reality Politics TV-style change [sponsored by the Republicans and that darn elitist corporate media], here are some important facts to consider: since 1948, the economy has grown faster on average under Democratic presidents than The Sarah Palin Smokescreen under Republicans; and income inequality trended "substantially upward under Republican presidents but slightly downward under Democrats," according to Princeton professor of political science, Larry M. Bartels, author of Unequal Democracy."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691136637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691136639
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #557,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy J. Bartik on June 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Larry Bartels's book is one of the most important written works on economic inequality issues over the last 25 years. Anyone discussing economic inequality in the U.S. will have to deal with Bartels's arguments and evidence, even if you disagree with his findings and how he interprets those findings.

Among the evidence and arguments of Bartels's books are the following:

*** Since World War II, Democratic Presidents have been associated with modestly progressive patterns of real per family income growth, that is the income growth during Democratic Presidents' terms has been somewhat higher for lower income families than for upper income families. Republican Presidents have been associated with highly regressive patterns of real per family income growth, that is income growth has been much higher for upper income families than for other families. However, all income groups have on average gained more under Democratic Presidents.

*** The Democratic Presidents' better performance has been concentrated during the second year of Presidential terms. Republican Presidents have done better during the 4th year of Presidential terms, that is the election year. This may help explain Presidential election results, as voters appear to respond more to election year economic performance than the economic performance of prior years.

*** Economic issues still are key for working class voters in the U.S.

*** Political leaders appear to be much more responsive to upper class and middle class voters in their state than to lower class voters. However, even more of voting behavior is explained by the ideology of a politician's political party.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a quite amazing book for its wealth of fascinating and often counter intuitive information, particularly income distribution stats and political survey information. There is definitely a form of political delusion at work in the USA, based on voters so consistently voting against their own interests. For example voters favoring abolition of the estate tax when it only affects the top 2% of tax payers or favoring the Bush 2001 tax cuts without knowing anything much about them. More interestingly he shows how, while increasing political knowledge (measured by simple questions on who is what position in US politics) increases Democrats awareness of economic inequality; the same increasing political knowledge makes Republicans LESS knowledgeable or more in denial that inequality has increased, let alone whether it is a problem. He also nails the idea that the blue collar have shifted against their interests. Republican voting is still largely a matter of the better off supporting them, especially the less well educated and religious better off The Democrats lost power because of the defection of the South that now merely reflects the national picture (rather than hugely Democratic as before Civil Rights circa 1964) and the growth of reasonably well off, non college educated, religious voters who vote on economic AND values grounds, though still against their economic interests. Since 1948 economic growth has been on average significantly higher and unemployment lower for all social groups under Democrat presidents; inflation has been only slightly higher. And income equality much better under Democrats. Ultimately I suppose a worrying and somewhat pessimistic book, but a necessary tough tonic before thinking of solutions.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
"Unequal Democracy" presents the results of a six-year exploration of the political causes and consequences of economic inequality in America. It was inspired by the substantial escalation of this inequality in recent years. Total income going to the top 0.1% of income earners has more than tripled, from 3.2% in the late 1950s to 10.9% in 2005; that going to the top 1% rose from 10.2% to 21.8%. Further, this widening is accelerating. Despite this trend, 80% believe that though you may start out poor, if you work hard you can make lots of money - more than any other developed nation. This belief undermines motivation for change.

Bartels believes that the most significant domestic policy initiative of the past decade has been a massive government-engineered transfer of additional wealth from the lower and middle classes to the rich via substantial reduction in federal income taxes for the rich.

Economists have found little evidence that large disparities promote growth, or that progressive tax rates retard growth by discouraging economic effort.

Meanwhile, political campaigns have become dramatically more expensive, increasing the reliance of elected officials on those who can afford to help finance their re-election bids. At the same time, membership in labor groups, a previously countervailing force, has substantially declined.

On average over the past half century, real incomes of middle-class families grew 2X under Democrats vs. Republicans, and working poor families grew 6X faster under Democrats - even after allowing for differences in economic circumstances.

So why do those with lower incomes vote for Republicans?
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