Economic inequality is a complex and multi-faceted notion, the root of which can hardly be reduced to a single cause. Larry M. Bartels in his work Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age and Hacker and Pierson in Winner Take All Politics provide powerful insights into the matter.
The two works share the overall sentiment that American political system is the major contributor to economic inequality as it has evolved in the United States. Bartels notes quite boldly that “economic inequality is, in substantial part, a political phenomenon”. (Bartels, 2009) Hacker and Pierson take a similar stance by pointing out that “hyperconcentration” of income in the hands of top 1% and top 0.1% flourished under Republican and Democrat presidents for decades and was heavily supported by the existing system of taxation and entitlements. Both works also point out that the political processes since the 1980s have been damaging to the wealth and prosperity of middle-class Americans and shifted the growth gains to the upper class.

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At the same time, there are some differences in points made by two studies. The principal argument of Hacker and Pierson develops around the unfair distribution of income facilitated by the political framework as the major cause for deepening economic inequality. In contrast, Bartels takes a more pronounced stance on the specifics of American politics as the direct cause. For instance, the book mentions the increased cost of political campaigns that made politicians rely even more on wealthy businesses and individuals behind them, thus opening the gates for lobbying for the superrich. Bartels also criticizes a particular political ideology – the book points out the ideology of the Republican Party as damaging to equal economic growth and prosperity of the working class. Hacker and Pierson depart from strictly political arguments to societal trends by referring, for instance, to the differences in consumption and spending between classes.

Overall, both works focus on identifying the elements of the political system that contribute to and largely shape up economic inequality.

  • Bartels, L. M. (2009). Unequal democracy: The political economy of the new gilded age. Princeton University Press.
  • Hacker, J. S., & Pierson, P. (2011). Winner-take-all politics: How Washington made the rich richer–and turned its back on the middle class. Simon and Schuster.