Tuesday, January 6, 2015

[NJFAC] A Political History of American Inequality,

Growing Apart: A Political History of American Inequality, Gordon 9/14


Growing Apart develops an historical explanation for our growing divide. The early chapters trace the dimensions of American inequality and discount the importance of the "usual suspects" in this story: globalization, technology, and demography. (Because these trends have been experienced generally and gradually across the democratic and industrialized world, they are not much help in explaining either the uneven historical trajectory of American inequality or the gap between the United States—where inequality is especially stark—and most of its peers.) The chapters that follow turn their attention to the politics of American inequality, developing the argument that policy and political choices—including our political responses to the challenges listed above—make up a more important part of the story.

A crude schematic of that political explanation would go something like this. Union decline (especially for men) and the declining value of the minimum wage (especially for women) drove inequality at the bottom of the wage spectrum in the 1970s and 1980s. This collapse in bargaining power was compounded by the meagerness of U.S. social programs (most pronounced after the end of the AFDC program in 1996), the steady decline in job-based benefits, and the determination (since the 1970s) to sacrifice full employment on the altar of price stability at every dip in the business cycle. As the floor of the midcentury social compact collapsed, economic rewards were increasingly hoarded at the top—an advantage hardened (especially across the last twenty years) by financialization, shifts in the tax burden, and the collapse of meaningful corporate governance. Simply put, public policy narrowed the ability of ordinary Americans to bargain for their fair share while widening the opportunity afforded the richest Americans to extract extraordinary rewards.....

Some good charts related to the paper.

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