America's Inequality Trap

America's Inequality Trap

Nathan J. Kelly

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226665474

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Economic inequality in the United States has followed a distinct U-shaped pattern since the end of WWII - a dramatic decline until the 1970s followed by a steady increase that puts current levels of inequality as high or higher than they've been in measured history. This book argues that connections between economic and political power help to explain these patterns. When domestic and global economic conditions generate higher levels of inequality, this concentration of income also produces a concentration of political power that further benefits the rich. Using various analytical approaches and a variety of data sources, the book demonstrates that as inequality rises: Republican candidates perform better in elections, public opinion fails to become more supportive of redistribution, the status quo bias inherent in the U.S. policy making process induces more inequality, and when policy agreement does occur it is more likely to generate inegalitarian policy changes. All of these patterns point to a self-reinforcing pattern in which inequality reshapes American politics (both political behavior and political institutions) in ways that further reinforce inequality in the U.S. political economy.