Political inequality fuels economic inequality

March 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm 1 comment

Yesterday we posted a video that illustrated the huge problem of wealth inequality in the United States. We have blogged before about the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, between urban and rural, and between big business and main street.  Now, Demos has published a report looking at one of the main things fueling these troubling trends: the rise in political inequality. While this has been implicit in many of our blog posts, Demos has done a good job explaining how political power and access undergird the policies and systems that perpetuate growing inequality.

The report explains that the political priorities of the wealthy diverge significantly from the general public in regard to a range of issues, including taxes, trade and globalization, business regulation, social safety net programs, and the role of government. While the general public favors policies that would level the playing field and begin to reverse some inequality, the wealthy are generally less in favor of these policies.

Jobs & Income Policy Preferences Of Affluent & General Public

Demos reports that while these groups do not disagree on everything, the biggest divergence occurs in areas of economic policy. For example, while most Americans are concerned about job creation, the wealthy place a higher priority on deficit reduction. One of the reasons that is cited for this difference is that the affluent have not been as affected by the economic downturn and the rise in unemployment.

Back in August, we had discussed that because the affluent and the political elite had not experienced the severity of Great Recession, as compared to the majority of Americans, their priorities do not align with what most Americans need.  The findings of the Demos report provide more support for this argument. Lower-income Americans have significantly less influence on public policy outcomes. They participate less in civic life (such as in voting– low-income voters turn out at far lower rates than higher-income voters), are under-represented among elected officials, and do not contribute as much to political campaigns. As a result, their priorities are not reflected in policy outcomes.

Most importantly, the Demos report makes the point that political inequality and economic inequality are mutually reinforcing:

Growing economic inequality is typically blamed on structural changes in the economy, such as globalization. But it is becoming ever clearer that the tilted playing field of U.S. politics, with affluent voices speaking most loudly, is itself a driver of inequality.

The report also lays out three solutions: reduce economic inequality, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and encourage more civic participation by ordinary Americans.  As the report points out,  those that are in most need of government programs and services, and those who are most impacted by public policy decisions, are the ones whose voices are least heard. People from all walks of life and all income levels should be educated and encouraged to participate in civic life. There’s a role to play for all of us in reversing this trend and allowing all voices to be heard in our political process.


Entry filed under: Economic Development, Economy, Jobs & Employment. Tags: , , , , .

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