On Monday, September 20th, the New America foundation hosted the book release of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer- And turned Its Back on the Middle Class written by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. The event was moderated by Mark Schmitt, executive editor of The American Prospect.
Hacker described the current and historical state of income inequality in America. The central premise of the book, he told the audience, is to explain “how government played a really crucial role in bringing about this inequality.” Hacker pointed out that policy has been directly involved with the unequal distribution of gains over the past 40 years. In fact, during that time period, 35% of all income gains went to the richest 1% of Americans while the overall income gap has widened in succeeding decades. “The economy,” he remarked, “has become a winner-take-all system.”
Pierson followed Hacker’s assessment of the current state of wealth inequality by explaining the national trend which has allowed this to occur. Pierson explained that the shift in power to the richest individuals of our society is a result of the need for money in order to maintain political dominance. “There are three things that matter in politics,” Pierson quoted, “the first is money, and I can’t remember the other two.” Pierson was quick to point out that the book does not ascribe blame to either major political party, as the inequality in wealth has remained constant during both Republican and Democratic administrations. Instead, it shows how this national drift toward a concentration of power in the hands of a small group of wealthy individuals has affected the parties differently, and thus resulted in different methods of adaptation: the Republicans have been empowered while the Democrats have been cross-pressured. Consequently, while wealth distribution has become grossly distorted over the previous decades, government has done little to control this drift. Ultimately, the two authors concluded, the book is less about what happens in Washington and more about what does not happen in Washington in order to address these widening inequalities.