The Economic OtherInequality in the American Political Imagination

The Economic OtherInequality in the American Political Imagination

Meghan Condon and Amber Wichowsky

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226691732

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Economic inequality is at a record high in the United States, but public demand for redistribution is not rising with it. This book shows that this paradox and other mysteries about class and American politics can be solved through a focus on social comparison. Powerful currents in American society compete to propel attention up or down—toward the rich or the poor—pulling politics along in the wake. Through an astute blend of experiments, surveys, and descriptions people offer in their own words, The Economic Other reveals that when less-advantaged Americans compare with the rich, they become more accurate about their own status and want more from government. But American society is structured to prevent upward comparison. In an increasingly divided, anxious nation, opportunities to interact with the country’s richest are shrinking, and people prefer to compare to those below to feel secure. Even when comparison with the rich does occur, many lose confidence in their power to effect change. Laying bare how social comparisons drive public opinion, this book is an essential look at the stubborn plight of inequality and the measures needed to solve it.