Inequality and American Democracy

Inequality and American Democracy: What We Know and What We Need to Learn

Lawrence R. Jacobs
Theda Skocpol Editors
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Inequality and American Democracy
    Book Description:

    In the twentieth century, the United States ended some of its most flagrant inequalities. The "rights revolution" ended statutory prohibitions against women’s suffrage and opened the doors of voting booths to African Americans. Yet a more insidious form of inequality has emerged since the 1970s—economic inequality—which appears to have stalled and, in some arenas, reversed progress toward realizing American ideals of democracy. In Inequality and American Democracy, editors Lawrence Jacobs and Theda Skocpol headline a distinguished group of political scientists in assessing whether rising economic inequality now threatens hard-won victories in the long struggle to achieve political equality in the United States. Inequality and American Democracy addresses disparities at all levels of the political and policy-making process. Kay Lehman Scholzman, Benjamin Page, Sidney Verba, and Morris Fiorina demonstrate that political participation is highly unequal and strongly related to social class. They show that while economic inequality and the decreasing reliance on volunteers in political campaigns serve to diminish their voice, middle class and working Americans lag behind the rich even in protest activity, long considered the political weapon of the disadvantaged. Larry Bartels, Hugh Heclo, Rodney Hero, and Lawrence Jacobs marshal evidence that the U.S. political system may be disproportionately responsive to the opinions of wealthy constituents and business. They argue that the rapid growth of interest groups and the increasingly strict party-line voting in Congress imperils efforts at enacting policies that are responsive to the preferences of broad publics and to their interests in legislation that extends economic and social opportunity. Jacob Hacker, Suzanne Mettler, and Dianne Pinderhughes demonstrate the feedbacks of government policy on political participation and inequality. In short supply today are inclusive public policies like the G.I. Bill, Social Security legislation, the War on Poverty, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that changed the American political climate, mobilized interest groups, and altered the prospect for initiatives to stem inequality in the last 50 years. Inequality and American Democracy tackles the complex relationships between economic, social, and political inequality with authoritative insight, showcases a new generation of critical studies of American democracy, and highlights an issue of growing concern for the future of our democratic society.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-304-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Lawrence R. Jacobs and Theda Skocpol
  5. Chapter One American Democracy in an Era of Rising Inequality
    (pp. 1-18)
    Lawrence R. Jacobs and Theda Skocpol

    Equal political voice and democratically responsive government are widely cherished American ideals—yet as the United States aggressively promotes democracy abroad, these principles are under growing threat in an era of persistent and rising inequalities at home. Disparities of income, wealth, and access to opportunity are growing more sharply in the United States than in many other nations, and gaps between races and ethnic groups persist. Progress toward expanding democracy may have stalled, and in some arenas reversed.

    Generations of Americans have worked to equalize citizen voice across lines of income, race, and gender. Today, however, the voices of American...

  6. Chapter Two Inequalities of Political Voice
    (pp. 19-87)
    Kay Lehman Schlozman, Benjamin I. Page, Sidney Verba and Morris P. Fiorina

    The exercise of political voice goes to the heart of democracy. By their political participation citizens seek to control who will hold public office and to influence what policymakers do when they govern. In voting and other political participation, citizens communicate information about their preferences and needs and generate pressure on public officials to respond. Although politicians in America have many ways to learn what is on the minds of citizens by parsing the polls, reading the newspaper, listening to talk radio, or watching the evening news, the messages conveyed through citizen participation are essential to democratic governance. Beyond being...

  7. Chapter Three Inequality and American Governance
    (pp. 88-155)
    Larry M. Bartels, Hugh Heclo, Rodney E. Hero and Lawrence R. Jacobs

    What government officials hear influences what they do. The processes of American governance—from the activities of interest groups and political parties to the often Byzantine operations of lawmakers—are readily penetrated by the strong, clear, and frequent political voices of privileged and highly active citizens. Differences in the abilities of individual citizens and groups to set the policy agenda, frame debates, and adapt to institutional processes prompts governing institutions to respond unevenly to the concerns and preferences of American citizens. Yet the governing process is not simply a mechanical cash register that tabulates the unequal political voices of the...

  8. Chapter Four Inequality and Public Policy
    (pp. 156-213)
    Jacob S. Hacker, Suzanne Mettler and Dianne Pinderhughes

    The past half century has witnessed wrenching changes in American politics and society that have provoked sharply conflicting conclusions about the fate of the American democratic experiment. On the one hand, long-standing restrictions on formal equality of citizenship have all but vanished. Women and minorities, once denied the right to freely vote, work, and associate, now enjoy guarantees of equal protection in a broad array of domains in which discrimination was once the norm. On the other hand,economicinequality has increased substantially in recent decades, reaching levels not seen since the Gilded Age (Jencks 2002). How these two great...

  9. Chapter Five Studying Inequality and American Democracy: Findings and Challenges
    (pp. 214-236)
    Lawrence R. Jacobs and Theda Skocpol

    Social scientific research at its best performs “the vital function of helping our democracy to know itself better” (Herring 1953, 71).¹ Earlier generations of scholars grappled with the impact of industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and ethnic variety on American democracy; probed the processes by which modern party and governmental practices challenged nineteenth-century patronage politics; investigated how well U.S. national government coped with the challenges of world war and depression; and reflected on the changing meaning and prospects of American democracy in the eras of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement. Today, scholars who study American politics work in an...

  10. Index
    (pp. 237-246)