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Book Says GOP Widens Income Gap

By Dan Balz
The most important issue rarely mentioned on the campaign trail this year is the gap between rich and poor in America. It is important for two reasons: The gap has, if anything, been growing, and the choice between presumptive nominees John McCain and Barack Obama likely will affect whether it narrows or expands.

That is the conclusion of a provocative new book by Princeton professor Larry M. Bartels, one of the country's most eminent political scientists. The book is entitled "Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age." It deserves to become part of the general election debate.

In his book, Bartels challenges conventional wisdom about American politics in a variety of ways. But his most telling conclusion is that there is a clear partisan pattern to the relationship between incomes of rich and poor. Over the past half-century, he concludes, Republican presidents have allowed the income inequality to expand, while Democratic presidents have not.

Lest anyone think this book is a partisan hit-job by a left-wing academic, Bartels goes to great pains in his introduction to knock down what he no doubt expects to be a counterattack from critics on the right. "I began this project as an unusually apolitical political scientist," he writes, noting that the last time he voted was in 1984 "and that was for Ronald Reagan."

He explains that in doing this work, "I was quite surprised to discover how often and how profoundly partisan differences in ideologies and values have shaped key policy decisions and economic outcomes. I have done my best to follow my evidence where it led me."

In Bartels's analysis of income growth, the period from the 1940s to the 1970s was one of relatively even income-growth distribution across the population: All groups gained ground.

Since 1974, however, the pattern has been skewed significantly toward the rich. Overall income growth has slowed in the past three decades, but it has slowed far more for those at the bottom than at the top. "Income growth over the past 25 years has accelerated with every additional step up the economic ladder," he writes.

Bartels acknowledges that there can be many explanations for growing income inequality, from globalization and structural changes in the U.S. economy to technological changes to demographic shifts. But he argues that it is wrong to assume there is no cause and effect from government and government policies. In fact, he asserts, there is a profound effect and it has clear partisan contours.

Bartels comes to this conclusion by examining what happened to income inequality from President Harry S. Truman to President George W. Bush. He writes, "Under Democratic presidents, poor families did slightly better than richer families (at least in proportional terms), producing a modest net decrease in income inequality; under Republican presidents, rich families did vastly better than poorer families, producing a considerable net increase in income inequality."

He concludes that income gap increased under presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes, while it declined under four of the five Democratic presidents who have served during this period -- all except Jimmy Carter. That pattern, he asserts, "seems hard to attribute to a mere coincidence in the timing of Democratic and Republican administrations."

A reason for this pattern is that Democratic and Republican presidents have pursued different economic policies, with Democrats generally focused more on reducing unemployment and generating faster growth and Republicans worried more about containing inflation. On tax policy, Republican presidents, especially since Reagan, have pushed tax cuts that have disproportionately helped the wealthiest Americans.

Bartels uses the election of 2000 to paint a stark contrast in what presidential leadership can mean in the distribution of income in America. In Bush's first four years, he writes, families in the 95th percentile of income (richer than all but 5 percent of Americans) received a 2 percent cumulative increase in real income. Middle income families saw a decline of 1 percent while poorer families saw a decline of 3 percent. Based on his historical data, Bartels estimates that under a President Gore, the working poor would have seen an increase of about 6 percent while the wealthy would have seen essentially no gain.

Why is there not more accountability by the electorate for what appears to be such a clear pattern? Bartels doesn't buy the hypothesis that lower-income Americans vote against their own economic interests because they put more stock in social and cultural issues when they pick a president.

He was one of the first to challenge that idea when it was advanced in Thomas Frank's book, "What's the Matter with Kansas," a few years ago. He first questions how the popular press defines white working-class voters, arguing that the widely used definition of voters without college degrees masks significant income differences among those workers.

Using income as his guide, Bartels argues that the white working class has not truly abandoned the Democrats. Instead, he concludes that the shift away from the Democrats is almost entirely attributable to the partisan transformation of the South from Democratic to Republican.

One of Bartels most intriguing conclusions is that the political timing of economic growth has influenced voters and that this has helped Republicans, despite their overall pattern of increasing the gap between rich and poor. Republicans presidents, he concludes, have often generated significant economic growth rates in the presidential election years, while Democratic presidents have not.

When the race for the White House is on, Bartels writes, "Families at every income level turn out to have fared much better under Republican presidents than under Democrats...Whether through political skill or pure good luck, Republican presidents have been remarkably successful in targeting income growth to coincide with presidential elections."

Bartels said no political party or administration can be held responsible for the global economic changes that affect income inequality. But he goes on to say, "It certainly seems fair--and perhaps even useful--to hold political parties accountable for the profound impact of their policies on the way those structural changes shape the economic fortunes of wealthy, middle-class and poor families."

By Washington Post Editor  |  May 28, 2008; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  Dan Balz's Take  
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To proximity1:
"The Constitution does not really provide for the effecting of the "will of a democratic majority". Rather, the Constitution was specifically designed to protect liberty from the "tyranny of the majority" in exactly the form you advocate. The US is a republic, not a democracy. The Constitutional (i.e. natural) rights of the minority are always to be prioritized against the majoritarian viewpoint."

Posted by: Stew | May 29, 2008 11:58 PM

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Another of the "The US is a republic, not a democracy" crowd?

Stew, you write erroneously, "The Constitution does not really provide for the effecting of the "will of a democratic majority".

UH, excuse me, but, yeah, it _does_--at least it does _today_ since it 'really' does provide for

a) the _direct_ popular election of the House of Represetatives and the Senate, which draft and enact the laws of the U.S., and, additionally, the president's electors, that moronic electoral college we're still suffering under--is also directly elected by popular vote with what we have as universal voting rights for all citizens 18 years of age or older.

All votes of Congress are determined by majority (voice or roll-call) votes. The cases decided by the Supreme Court are decided by majority vote. Federal administrative tribunals of more than one officer rule by majority vote.

Your head is filled with absurd folktales I suppose you heard from others who got their knowledge of U.S. government out of the old family Bible or, worse, some graduate course in political theory from the University of Chicago or from "Dr" Ditto, Rush Limbaugh.

Please go and read some books, Stew.

The U.S. as a 'republic' not a 'democracy' is just so much scholastic rubbish. You may not _like_ 'one person, one vote," but that, also known as "democratic rule" is what the U.S. Constitution _today_ is _supposed_ to mean. I gather you're oppose democracy. Well, unfortunately, in the U.S., you have lots of (foolish) company.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

To proximity1:
The Constitution does not really provide for the effecting of the "will of a democratic majority". Rather, the Constitution was specifically designed to protect liberty from the "tyranny of the majority" in exactly the form you advocate. The US is a republic, not a democracy. The Constitutional (i.e. natural) rights of the minority are always to be prioritized against the majoritarian viewpoint.

Posted by: Stew | May 29, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Here we go again. Here are some problems with Bartlels' analysis:

1. He dates the income disparity from 1974. Republicans have been President almost three times as long as Democrats since then, but Democrats have controlled the House of Representatives an equal period. Each party controlled both the House and the Presidency for only six of those years. The policies he cites as creating differences--unemployment, growth, inflation and tax policies--required cooperation by both parties to develop. The President is not a King. The primary tool affecting these policies is the tax law. The history of tax law since the Reagan tax cuts has been remarkably consistent in its ideology--an ideology first introduced by that famous 'Republican' John F. Kennedy in 1962. It has eliminated millions of lower to middle income parents as taxpayers and dramatically expanded credits that mitigate the effect of the payroll tax for lower and even middle income filers.

2. Bartels' assertion that Democrats focus more on unemployment and growth and Republicans on inflation is not supported by actual history.
Unemployment in October 1949 (Truman) was 7.9%. Since then it has been as low as 2.5% (May-June '53-Ike) and as high as 10.8% (Nov-Dec '82-Reagan) with an average of 5.6%. The Eisenhower (4.9) and Kennedy/Johnson (4.8) years were virtually identical. The Nixon/Ford (5.9) years saw a rise as problems of the 70's began. Carter (6.5), Reagan (7.5) and Bush 41 (6.3) paid for the mistakes of the 70's. Clinton (5.6) and Bush 43 (5.2) have experienced a return to normalcy.
Economic growth was robust in the Eisenhower and Kennedy/Johnson years in spite of a few sharp, short recessions. The Nixon/Ford and Carter years were more difficult. Although overall growth was moderate, the downturns were longer and more disruptive. Remember the term 'stagflation'? Since '82, growth has been robust again through three Republicans and one Democrat.
Inflation almost did not exist from Eisenhower thru Johnson, but it had started edging up in LBJ's last years. It accelerated through Nixon, Ford and Carter and was only brought under control at the end of Reagan's first term.
The conclusion: Both parties are equally good at developing both good and bad policies and it was the mistakes of the 70's (actually started by Johnson) that had more influence on economic events than anything a President does.

3. Focusing on income disparity is silly in an economy in which all incomes are rising, even among the poor. Also, almost everybody climbs the ladder through the income classes as they age. Most people reach a comfortable middle class existence in which their standard of living is high--the highest in the world.

Bartels' problem is that he is a political scientist, not an economist. He blames Republican tax cuts, but these cuts were across the board and benefited all taxpayers. What he fails to factor in is the idea that in a growing economy, investors (who are more likely to have higher incomes) will receive greater returns on their investments, ergo higher incomes. So what? The investments they make create jobs that employ the poor and all incomes rise. Bartles implies that Republican Presidents game the economy in election years to grow incomes of all classes (thereby admitting there are times when income disparity does not occur). A simpler explanation, excluding coincidence, is that best economic effects of Republican policies manifest themselves three years later when they are running for reelection.

The reality here is that those who want a larger and more expansionist government, and the taxes to pay for it, must find a way to impeach the clear evidence that Republican tax policy has been good for the economy. The only thing they can come up with is this income disparity idea. Even this is a thin reed: Bartels admits that the income differences are small, 3% or less.

Posted by: Bill Eastland | May 29, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Stew writes,

"Wow--I was going to write a post declaring that the purpose of the US government is to allow for individual liberty, not equal income. However, based on reading the other posts, it seems like almost everyone gets that--boy am I relieved. Now, if only someone could teach this to the Princeton econ department!"

Posted by: Stew | May 29, 2008 6:00 AM

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

I read the Constitution of the United States and I learned that the 'purpose of the government' is intended to be putting the will of a democratic majority of the people into effect.

If that majority one day comes to learn enough to understand that a neo-conservative's dream of an unregulated marketplace approach to life in all its aspects is an insanely destructive course to follow, then the democratic majority could decide to make it 'the purpose of government' to curb and control such practices.

At that point, 'the purpose of government' would become to put the majority's preferences into effect.

Your challenge will be to convince people that they ought to continue to believe that getting kicked in the teeth is somehow good for them.

I wish you all the bad luck in the world with that.

Posted by: proximity1 | May 29, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Wow--I was going to write a post declaring that the purpose of the US government is to allow for individual liberty, not equal income. However, based on reading the other posts, it seems like almost everyone gets that--boy am I relieved. Now, if only someone could teach this to the Princeton econ department!

Posted by: Stew | May 29, 2008 6:00 AM | Report abuse

Correlation is not causation. Could it be that the economic cycle has a disproportionate influence on the electoral one, and not the other way around? Ask yourself, what economic factors do presidents actually control. Through congressional action, they have some influence on tax rates and Federal expenditures - and this is probably their biggest influence. Through their appointments, they have an influence on the Federal Reserve, although that effect is delayed for years and doesn't coincide with the electoral cycle. Likewise, their appointees have some influence on regulation in some areas where the executive branch has discretion. I agree with the poster who noted that people who make money from investments can choose when to sell and pay their taxes, and thus choose to sell at times of lower rates. And it is clear that unions fare better under Democratic regulatory policy. Otherwise, the economic cycle may be driving the electoral one, since there are so many delayed effects.

Posted by: Andrew P | May 29, 2008 5:28 AM | Report abuse

Awww, poor babies don't get to have other peoples' earnings handed to them. Maybe they could try, you know, working for their money?

Posted by: kldfjd | May 29, 2008 2:41 AM | Report abuse

Of course the income gap decreases under Democrats and increases under Republicans. Democrats believe that the money EARNED by those at the top should be ripped from them and redistributed to those at the bottom, regardless of whether or not those people at the bottom deserved it, all in the name of "equity" (whatever that means). While this may make income inequality less severe, is that truly keeping with the spirit of this country? No way.

Posted by: Joseph Baker | May 29, 2008 1:24 AM | Report abuse

Take your Cayman Islands money and stay away from the United States. YOU are the problem you unpatriotic so & so!

Posted by: niteshft | May 29, 2008 12:48 AM | Report abuse

Isn't a conclusion here the liklihood that Democrat Party power increases as the income gap widens?

Posted by: Ignatz | May 29, 2008 12:24 AM | Report abuse

What do you get when you have a liberal Washington Post reporter review a book on economic policy by a liberal Princeton Political Science Professor? This hash of a book review.

Why would anyone listen to a political scientist on economic topics anyway? Or a journalist for that matter?

The whole premise of the book is a joke. Who else assumes that Congress has no role in setting economic policy? or that there is no delay in the setting of economic policy and the results of that policy? or that the economy is such a fine-tuned machine that Republicans can make it rev in an election year? (...but Democrats can't?? )

ROFL! As JFP said, income and wealth are not the same and just because lower class incomes go up under Democratic Presidents doesn't mean that prices don't also climb.

This book (and book review) is just another pathetic attempt by liberals to justify their assumption that the voters are stupid.

Posted by: SpencerG | May 29, 2008 12:16 AM | Report abuse

Larry Bartels, as head of the New Jersey legislative redistricting commission in 2001 or 2002, single-handedly handed the state legislature over to the Democrats. His stated rationale for his districting plan was that it was designed to elect to a majority whichever party got the most votes overall (with gerrymandering in favor of Democrats required in most of the state to offset the effect of federally-mandated majority-minority districts). However, in 2003, the senate republicans won a razor-thin total popular vote majority in the election, but the Democrats still took a majority of seats, proving the gerrymander was simply a pro-Democrat packing scheme.

Bartels voted for Reagan in 1984, he says. Robert F Kennedy Jr calls himself a Republican, as did Ralph Neas, both so they could flagellate Republicans with extra credibility. So what? Bartels is the ultimate partisan political operative. Balz should have known this.

Posted by: Lars Bader | May 28, 2008 11:13 PM | Report abuse

the author's mug shot:

he apparently has NO experience in statistical analysis, economic analysis, systems analysis, mathematics, physics or engineering.

in fact, he has absolutely no qualifying experience or credentials in anything related to the book's title that i could find.

and exactly why should anyone even care what this uber-nerd has written?

Posted by: tim stevens | May 28, 2008 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Well, this is just one more reason to keep giving money to support the GOP and to keep rallying people to vote GOP.
With the Republicans in the house is always much easier to take our wealth to the places where our wealth should be: in the beautiful yachts sailing on the blue Caribbean sea...
I don't care about high school dropouts or a bunch of Mexicans, for me they all can die of starvation. Or worse, they can rally around the two Dem communists, and have their bitterness show up.
I have my money secure, pretty far away from the Dems hands if they get the government back... That is why Cayman Islands are so beautiful...

Posted by: One more reason to vote GOP | May 28, 2008 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Funny ...

When DIMs are president rich people get poorer and then there are more poor people.

But when Republicans are president more people become rich ... but the poor stay just as poor.

You gotta be a dumb Nig in the hood to believe this stuff.

BlackBubba --- Transcending the Nig's in the Hood!

When Dim's are president income gap diminishes because no one makes income.

Posted by: blackbubba | May 28, 2008 10:28 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with inequality?

Consider how: Dryer Sheets Contain Cancer Causing Chemicals...

"...these fragrance chemicals are extremely toxic chemicals. They are known carcinogens. They cause liver damage and cancer in mammals. In fact, the only way they are approved for consumer products is that there is an underlying, but false, assumption by the FDA and other regulatory agencies that cosmetic products ... don't pose a health risk because their chemicals are not absorbed through the skin. This assumption is incorrect, however. Nearly every chemical that touches the skin finds its way into the body and into the bloodstream," from "Warning: many dryer sheets contain cancer causing chemicals," Mike Adams, 12/05/04.

It is stupid to expose people to cancer and reporduction harm causing chemicals and then everyone has to pay increased Medical Insurance rates...

You know what I'm saying?

The issue isn't so much inequality between the poor and the not-poor--the issue is that Politicians ain't nothing nice, and all of us are getting knocked on the head here... So to speak...

Posted by: Michael L. Wagner | May 28, 2008 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Bartel's methodology is simplistic and deeply flawed. The entire analysis is based on the inane assumption that the effect of policy on economic growth manifests itself with a one year lag -- an assumption that makes no practical sense in the real world.

This blog post describes the flaws in Bartels' argument in more detail:

Posted by: Sieglo | May 28, 2008 10:01 PM | Report abuse

When the author of a book, like this one, goes to great lengths in the beginning to say he started from an unbiased position; you can bet he is biased.

Posted by: Tom Paine | May 28, 2008 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, the book is titled "Unequal Democracy," but the real deal is how "Scott McClellan writes in a new memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American people..."

So..., what?--the Vietnam War started with a blatantly false State Dept. White Paper and a single shot to the side of the USS Maddox...

Following that dreadful debacle, crimes rates soared...


Perhaps the problem is that too many of the lower-class see White Bread for what it is...

What people fail to understand is that they're being had by the Politicians...

OH SURE--our economy goes to hell after 9/11--for want of a dollar lock-bar across cockpit doors...

OH SURE--we all face the crime of the illegal aliens--for want of a guest worker program...

Being a seeker of truth myself, I'm going to try crying in my MILK--so many are such advocates of it, I've simply got to try it for myself!!!

Posted by: Michael L. Wagner | May 28, 2008 8:56 PM | Report abuse

For those of us who aren't wealthy, here's the deal: for the self-employed and those with significant invested assets, the tax code allows you to choose WHEN you pay your taxes. The president has a large part in setting rates, so if you could choose when you pay for even a small part of your income, you would do two things: delay paying, and pay when the rates are lowest.

If there is a GOP rate in place today and the specter of a higher rate in the future, then you usually pay sooner than you might otherwise.

If there is a Dem rate in place today, and the promise of a lower rate in the future then you usually wait.

In both cases, reported incomes and tax revenues related to the wealthy are shifted from Dem to GOP presidencies.

Sorry supply-siders. Sorry communist sympathizers/Washington Post reporters.

And sorry about your book, Dr. Bartels. If you had worked for a tax preparer as a younger man, you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble.

Posted by: PleaseThinkPhDs | May 28, 2008 8:36 PM | Report abuse

The only form of equality which may be sought by the state is equality before the law. With equality before the law, the goddess of justice is rightly depicted as blind as she holds the scales evenly; blind because she is no respecter of persons. To her all, rich or poor, strong or weak, high or low, come for equal protection. Per contra, the state pursuit of equality of income or wealth is poison to justice and freedom. So too is equality of opportunity if that means, as unfortunately it has increasingly come to mean, that life's races must be fixed so that all start equal.

Though even the modest taxation of the limited state may have some incidental income - redistributive effect, the deliberate pursuit of redistribution of incomes or wealth by the state is absolutely impermissible. It is par excellence the mark of the robber state, all the worse when it presents itself as the expression of compassion or human brotherhood.

The state may not command, direct, control or regulate the economic activity of the people, except where it can be convincingly shown that such a measure is an essential means of preventing the people from encroaching upon each other's liberty or rightful property.

Posted by: holman | May 28, 2008 8:10 PM | Report abuse

The authors book is titled "Unequal Democracy" We are supposed to be equal under the law. Life, however is not equal, is not fair. Our constitution does not provide a guarantee of results in an individuals bank account. So what if the rich get richer faster. I don't think we should hold that against them.

Posted by: listen | May 28, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with inequality?

I wouldn't want to be drafted..., and the uneducated are the ones who end up doing the very dangerous GRUNT work...

I can't imagine, where the Russians lost their "Vietnam" (namely, Afghanistan), that we're not facing an upcoming draft...

Arnold Schwarzenegger rode to victory (CA Governor) after making a big deal of his support for after-school programs for the poor kids...

I don't see that working over-time, ect. has anything to do with providing everyone with a comparable education...

We have as many as 20 million illegal aliens; what does this say about The Man's mind set...?

In Holland "soft drugs" are "tolerated..." Isn't Industrialization the issue here...

On the one hand, who can't understand why people would shun oppressive jobs for the "drug culture"; on the other hand, who can't understand that the rich man will never be an advocate of the poor (It's easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to go to heaven, because the rich will never be an advocate...

Posted by: Michael L. Wagner | May 28, 2008 7:53 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with inequality?

It sounds good in theory (yes we can!), but in practice it means that if you work extra hours, get an education, or take a risk and start a business, you will be labeled as oppressing those who didn't.

Posted by: Tanya | May 28, 2008 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Note that the author talks about the semantics of "the distribution of income", which is a tenet of the socialist faith.

He doesn't talk about the earning of income.

He talks about equality of results, not equality of opportunity.

I have been poor, and I viewed hard work and education as a way out.

I am not poor anymore.

But when I was young and broke, all I wanted was the opportunity to improve my lot in life.

I didn't want a handout or the rewards of someone else's work, just the opportunity to succeed.

I don't care to pick cotton on a socialist plantation.

Socialism is great if you have the mentality of a serf.

Posted by: molonlabe28 | May 28, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like more left-wing propaganda. In reality some of our richest politicians are (gasp) Democrats (i.e., Kennedy, Pelosi, Boxer, Feinstein, Corrizine, etc.). Sure, there are wealthy Republicans, too. But, to blame any trend on one political party comes across as merely propaganda, not true academic research. Maybe a closer look instead should review such issues as government programs that encourage people to be dependent instead of working hard to earn a living. Another factor is the way many government programs discourage entrepreneurialship. Politicians like Obama never mention how one might start a business to make a living-- instead, they emphasize government solutions-- to the detriment of people working hard.

Posted by: Dennis in Denver | May 28, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

What the book does consider is that our underclass is growing disproportionately, proving that the greatest percentage of social mobility is actually downward, right wing apologists notwithstanding.

Posted by: arbite | May 28, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Static class membership analysis is bogus. Granted, there is a permanent underclass who for either lack of ability or desire do nothing to improve themselves --but there is also a fluidity --both up and down but mostly up -- between classes. As a result it doesn't really matter what the actual gap is between the classes -- just so long as the bottom end has enough means to keep from starving to death if they want to they can move up in class overtime.

Posted by: nokarmahere | May 28, 2008 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Prior to the 2004 election, I walked through a poor white neighborhood and saw nothing but Bush signs. You'll have to do a lot more to persuade me that poor whites haven't abandoned the Democrats.

Also, incomes for the poor might go up under the Democrats, but expenses can go up, too. Gas would be lots cheaper if we could get the Democrats to allow us to drill our own oil in areas they want protected. Think of how keeping those areas protected hurts the poor.

Finally, I'm in the lower-middle class, and for me having lots of opportunities is more important than a greater income per se. I just don't see this happening with the Democrats.

Posted by: JFP | May 28, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

It is not rocket science to know that having Republicans in control of policy will widen the income gap more than having Democrats in control. Its been that way for as long as anybody has been alive. Although amazingly, many Americans just don't get it.

Posted by: Robert | May 28, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Proximity1. What is been lost in contemporary culture is the strong American belief of the 19th century that "CAPITALISM has no more to do with CHRISTIANITY than it has with COMMUNISM". Indeed many thought Christianity a good deal more compatible with communism (Not the Russian variety) as the early Church and many Christian communities in the US in the 19th century were organized as communal societies. Certainly, the animating feature of captialism--greed--is one of the deadly sins of Christianity. To imagine that trying to purge a breaking-down society of its immoral (and unChristian) excesses is class warfare is to be so deluded as to be clueless.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | May 28, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Does the book consider social mobility? Many people in their twenties are "poor"; I certainly was based on national income statistics. But I knew my income would improve as my skills improved, as did millions of other of my peers. This is a natural and normal progression, unless one has no interest in improving his or her skills.

What is so wrong about about honing one's skills, and thereby getting ahead? I'm sure Cuba has little income inequality compared to the U.S.; is that the "worthy" goal this author prefers?

Posted by: truthseeker | May 28, 2008 5:38 PM | Report abuse

It's not just that many white working class voters vote against their economic interest -- even if it's not a majority of them, it's certainly in large enough of numbers both to swing the outcome of an election and to explain the South's transformation from Democrat to Republican -- it's that many of them do not vote period, thereby shifting more political power to wealthier voters.

Posted by: Mike | May 28, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with inequality?

It sounds good in theory (yes we can!), but in practice it means that if you work extra hours, get an education, or take a risk and start a business, you will be labeled as oppressing those who didn't.

Posted by: Jack | May 28, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

What's missing is an examination of the actual causes (other than party in power) for growth, income changes, etc.

This examination of income changes/growth cycles paired up with party in power has been done before. So it's not new. And since I don't own the book, I'm left with Balz' description of the book, which is pretty paltry.

If the book is paltry, too, then neither it nor this post are worth a crap. You need to do more than correlate the data, you need to examine causation. It appears from what has been written here, that wasn't done.

In other words, yawn.

Posted by: A3k | May 28, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with inequality?

It sounds good in theory (yes we can!), but in practice it means that if you work extra hours, get an education, or take a risk and start a business, you will be labeled as oppressing those who didn't.

Posted by: Marty | May 28, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with inequality?

It sounds good in theory (yes we can!), but in practice it means that if you work extra hours, get an education, or take a risk and start a business, you will be labeled as oppressing those who didn't.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with inequality?

It sounds good in theory (yes we can!), but in practice it means that if you work extra hours, get an education, or take a risk and start a business, you will be labeled as oppressing those who didn't.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Dear Proximity1:

Regarding your opinion: What garbage!

Perhaps Capitalism is imperfect, but Marxism and Socialism are worse.

Posted by: JWQ | May 28, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

If anyone had the guts to research this hack, they would have found that the author, Larry Bartels, is an avowed left winger (i.e. academic centrist), connected to Gore and jockying for a consultative role in an Obama administration. If anyone spent a few moments thinking about the some of the crap he implies about election-year manipulation, one only has to look at 2000 (the year Clinton-Gore created fake wealth with the tech bubble), 1992 (George Sr. manipulated the recession against himself!), 1980 (the year that traitor Carter almost bankrupt the country) or 2008 (you know, the fake recession invented by the media). The pattern here is that poor economic performance leads to a change of leadership. Fortunately for Republicans, this is irrelevant, since their opponents provide them with an endless supply of gifts (McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis and now, Obama!)

Posted by: Ronnie NYC | May 28, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

More class warfare. What a joke.

Do your homework, and you'll see the so-called inequality problem is anything but. Are the rich richer? Yes. Does that mean the poor are poorer? No.

It's like the argument that Bush's tax cuts primarily benefited the wealthy. Of course they did. The wealthy paid the vast majority of taxes. It's not rocket science, people.

Enough already.

Posted by: Paul | May 28, 2008 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Bartels betrays his liberal bent even though he takes great pains not to. He states bluntly that Dem presidents decrease income inequality. He says "seems hard to attribute to a mere coincidence in the timing of Democratic and Republican administrations." But he has a hard time with an endorsement of rep pres. He says
...Whether through political skill or pure good luck, Republican presidents have been remarkably successful in targeting income growth to coincide with presidential elections." Notice the pure good luck stuff. Even so, I think he gets the big point correct. Which is, as a nation you can have greater growth and more inequality or you can have lesser growth and less inequality.

Posted by: MRC | May 28, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Ryan P.---

my sentiments exactly.

Posted by: jencm | May 28, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Some interesting theories which attempt to offer provisional answers to these issues are available from the French economist, Jacques Généreux and particularly in his text, "La dissociété", 2006, Editions du Seuil [isbn: 978 2 7578 0688 3].

for further details see the links below:

To simplify greatly his thesis for the purposes of this thread, suffice it to say that he argues that our social and economic policies stem from a fundamentally false idea of what human nature seeks and expects from society--here intended to refer to typical modern western industrial society--and that this is due to a view of human nature which traces its roots back to the classic economic assumptions formulated in the European Enlightenment period and, notably, those presented in classic capitalist theory (still too widely accepted by both the public and by professionals of political organizations but generally no longer taken at face value by economists) as given by Adam Smith in "The Wealth of Nations."

That picture is one of people driven mainly by individual selfish interests which leaves little or no account of the other common features of human nature which prize collective action to satisfy important individual and social needs which are left unaddressed by individual competitive impulses.

His view, then, is that when modern societies make themselves subject to the values and priorities of a dominant unregulated private-market competition in areas which extend across the spectrum of all human activities, the predictable result is something that he describes as a pathological set of social and political practices.

To cope with these in all their varied forms, most people, lacking the means to address and change social and political currents in their society, seek instead to adapt to them. And the adapting mechanisms they as individuals adopt often promote more of the very things which feed and worsen their plight. That is manifested in people choosing to support social and political policies which are in practice harmful to the majority but which in their own individual circumstances may afford them certain kinds of relative and temporary relief from the stresses of their work and family situations.

There is something of the well-known 'prisoners' dilemma' at work in this picture. Many people would behave differently and for the general betterment of all if they could overcome the immediate personal interests in preferring a variety of acts which in sum worsen the circumstances of society as a whole.

The reason that they don't use the opportunities which democracy should afford them is because in our democracies, the situation is one in which party elites present an _"offer"_--in the sense of supply and demand economics--rather than respond to a popularly produced _"demand"_ for a certain political orientation of society. Or, in short, because the party insiders, not the majority of the general public, determine how and in whose interests so-called democratic government will be practiced.

That in turn prompts and feeds disappointment and alienation from the political system, which is seen as working directly against ordinary individuals' interests--and is simply compounded with the relatively few choices which average individuals have for avoiding doing what, taken together across society as a whole, often hurts the vast majority of ordinary people in the near, medium and long term.

A solution lies only in the establishment of a democratic practice which, instead of being one of "offer" from the party elite, is one of "demand" from the general voting public.

Obviously, that will not be produced by the typical political party apparatus since those are the creatures of an already-established and self-serving class of directorial monied elite--the people who have both the time and the financial resources to manage national political affairs.

This too brief and over-simplified review necessarily leaves out much that is contained in Mr. Généreux's text but perhaps it will give a casual (and non-French-language) reader of this thread some ideas to mull over.

The question of why people can tend to take political and social decisions which in the end sum up to producing harm to themselves and their fellow citizens is an interesting one and has diverse and interesting answers for those who delve into the matter.

Posted by: proximity1 | May 28, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I love the objectivity. This is one of the most enlightening pieces I have read during this election cycle. Guess what? there are only a few responses as I expected. If somehow Clinton says something about assassination, you would expect people to write 500 comments. American people are just not interested in serious business but rather dig into daily pop soap operas. That is the reason why Ms. Clinton keep spewing rubbish out there because it sells. Hate is one degree apart from love. And of course we have a fellow citizen like Jim who wouldn't vote for someone who most likely help him down the road for self satisfaction of voting for the "same" skin. Also those who claim they would vote for Mr. McCain if Ms. Hillary loses fair and square. Well, what can I say? Some people would just burn the whole house to bust a few fleas.

Posted by: Ryan P. | May 28, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh say, isn't this a load of garbage...

The income of poorer families declined 3%...

First off, wages certainly didn't decrease; I have doubts about the veracity of the method used here...

Bottom line: Someone's pushing Gore here: Under a President Gore...

...Bringing us full-circle, back to our pot smokin' punk...

NY City Mayor Bloomberg admitted that he smoked the evil weed, and liked it...

So..., we're left with truth seekers observing how The Man won't let him do what's so obviously right (obviously--in his own mind), and, instead, he's supposed to be on board with sticking it to the poor...???

Why does Globalization have to equate to a widened income gap; the precise purpose of Govt. is protect the people...

It's funny--you take "The Drop-Out" and grant him/her a "decent" wage and a healthy work environment and benefits package and it's the difference between night and day (doesn't take a stellar Barack Obama to figure this out).

Good Gracious Gertie--Gore is no class act; "The first environmental promise Al Gore made in the 1992 campaign, he soon broke. It involved the WTI hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, built on a floodplain near the Ohio River. The plant, one of the largest of its kind in the world, was scheduled to burn 70,000 tons of hazardous waste a year in a spot only 350 feet from the nearest house. A few hundred yards away is East Elementary School, which sits on a ridge nearly eye-level with the top of the smokestack," from The Green Imposter, by J. St. Clair, 03/17/07, CounterPunch.

Such, I, Michael L. Wagner, do humbly submit that we are being had here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Michael L. Wagner | May 28, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Jim | May 28, 2008 1:33 PM
I don't care if I do get poorer under McCane - I ain't votin for no Moslem!
I don't care if Obama or Clinton win the nomination, but I ain't votin for no Bush robot midget.

Posted by: Bushhateskids | May 28, 2008 2:18 PM | Report abuse

You are an idiot. Or as you might spell it, an ediot.

Posted by: Mpls Dem | May 28, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I don't care if I do get poorer under McCane - I ain't votin for no Moslem!

Posted by: Jim | May 28, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Republican Government = The super-rich get much richer, and everyone else poorer.

Democrat Government = Everyone gets a little richer.

Posted by: NoDuh | May 28, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Dear American Voters,

Hon. Senator McCain and Obama besides each having many attributes and characteristics. The critical differences in my professional, political, and personal opinion are as under:

1. Presidential "Temperament and Integrity".
2. Little Washington "insider Versus outsider" connectedness.
3. Vision and mission for our future rather than past.

In my professional opinion one senator has it and the other does not. We need one for our Greatgrand Nation to address our all these challenges with a fresh, clean and new slate.

God Bless America. its diverse people, and our Greatgrand Nation.

Yours truly,

COL. [retd] A.M.Khajawall
Forensic psychiatrist, Las Vegas NV

Posted by: COl. [retd] A.M.Khajawall | May 28, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Change between incomes of rich and poor: Change that you deserve.

From: Head of State

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The Change That You Deserve

From the Chicago Tribune:

"The slogan unveiled this week by House Republicans - "Change you deserve" - is already a trademark used by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to market its antidepressant Effexor XR."

Black Screen.

Fade into:

Scene of a thin grey haired man standing in a green field. Behind him we can see the sun is rising.

"I got the change I deserved with GOP"

Cut to a small child, in a sun dress, who looks up at him and smiles.

"I was tired, listless. I had lost interest in my usual activities--creating false attacks, acting as if I had been unfairly attacked about issues created out of whole cloth, drawing specious historical parallels, fawning over ideologically bankrupt manufactured father figures. Sure, I sent emails claiming that Obama was a Muslim, but had lost the spark, the enjoyment of everyday life."

Cut to a child who rides by on a bicycle, and throws a newspaper on the front porch.

"That's when I found GOP."

Cut to man rowing in a scull across a still river. He turns to the camera, smiles.

"In clinical studies, GOP has been found to increase aggressiveness in the absence of actual provocation in 8 out of 10 users. In most users, the desire to gleefully attack returns in 1 week. Full enthusiasm for invented ideas in two. "

Cut to image of porch swing.

"With GOP, my attention to minor distractions fully returned, until I was again building them into major accusations of flawed character. Once again, my intense focus on pins, buttons, sentences fragments and remote relationships as absolute indications of personal virtue and ability was at its peak. For an entire weekend, I could once again choose the right moment to accuse a candidate of treason without cause--when I was ready, when the time felt right".

Cut to a series of blurred images: long, stringy haired teens in torn jeans and ironic 80's t-shirts lounging by the Washington Monument; picture of John Kerry in a Swift Boat during Vietnam;
Eiffel Tower. Plate of Arugula. During these images, rapid voiceover in female voice:

"GOP may cause monosyllabism, inability to consider two differing concepts at the same time, memory loss or inaccurate recall of recently and repeatedly presented intelligence information, focus on size of automobiles or koro, sequential nicknaming, knowing mischaracterization, hooting. If you have a desire to read the collected works of Ann Coulter that lasts longer than four hours, this may be a sign of a dangerous condition and you should contact your physician immediately."

Cut back to man standing in field. American flag waving in the distance behind him, below a risen sun. A woman walks up beside him, puts her arm around him, and smiles.


"So get the change that you deserve. Talk to your Doctor about GOP. Soon, you'll be walking by the homeless on the street again and saying 'Let them get a job!'

Or better yet--let them get GOP."

Woman smiles.


Head of State

Posted by: Robert Hewson | May 28, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

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