Review (Guest): Winner-Take-All Politics–How Washington Made the Rich Richer – and Turned its Back on the Middle Class

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Paul Pierson and Jacob S. Hacker

5.0 out of 5 stars Political Economy

January 17, 2011

Retired Reader (New Mexico) – See all my reviews

This book is an effort by two political scientist to explain how in the last thirty years or so wealth in the U.S. has become concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of people. The fact that this has occurred is indisputable. So is the fact that the gap between the richest Americans and everybody else has grown exponentially just as the U.S. middle class is gradually disappearing. The explanation of why this has occurred offered by Hacker and Pierson is rather more controversial.

They begin by noting that over the last thirty years not only have the already rich gotten much richer, but that the U.S. National Economy has been transformed into a system that no longer serves the interests of the once broad and thriving American Middle Class that once was the backbone of that economy. In their view the system now serves the interests of a small minority of the rich and very rich (one to five per cent of the population). So their book begins by asking how and why did this occur and why over the last thirty years?

Since Hacker and Pierson are political scientists not economists, they argue that this transformation was due to political, not economic factors. Using what appears to be accurate statistical data they cite three `clues’ or factors that point to what happened to the U.S. economy: 1) hyper-concentration of wealth; 2) sustained hyper-concentration; and 3) during the thirty years under study, while wealth concentrated at the very top of the income scale, the economy essentially stopped working for the middle and working classes who continually lost ground during this period.

This economic transformation in favor of the rich they argue is not the result of impersonal economic forces but of deliberate government actions or at times inaction (drift). Their central thesis is that mostly incremental government policies over the last thirty years have had the cumulative effect of changing the U.S. economic system into a `winner take all’ system heavily biased in favor of the rich and very rich. At the same time federal government policies undermined the traditionally strong labor unions that served as a counter weight to corporations’ power and systematically deregulated financial markets and executive compensation.
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Review: Off Center–The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (Hardcover)

5 Star, Democracy, Politics

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5.0 out of 5 stars We Have to “Go For Broke” in 2008,

May 1, 2006
Professor Jacob S. Hacker
This is a tremendous book. It joins The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World; The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics and Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders (by Tom Coburn, about how the “Party” turns elected representatives into slaves to the party line and against their constituencies). When combined with the latter books and Ralph Nader’s long-standing complaints about “the system,” these authors can take credit for adding useful new insights as to how extremist Republicans (who can indeed be likened to Hitler’s movement in the efficacy of their take-over of a Nation with limited numbers–and I say this as a moderate Republican furious over the loss of MY party’s reason) have pulled off the theft of a Nation and the looting of the middle class through the working poor.

I am especially taken with the authors’ examination of how the extremist Republicans have been able to systematically lie to the public and get away with it. Their discussion of “backlash insurance” and how they have managed to coerce the moderate Republicans (such as my favorite moderate Republican, Congressman Rob Simmons, R-CT-02) into going along is a very helpful contribution to public understanding of how we got so far off center.

The authors conclude with a fine review of the four major obstacles to political reform.

Where they fall short is in failing to develop a solution. A number of us in the Greater Democracy movement have in fact developed a solution, and in the next three lines I hope you will see our solution as a fitting epilogue to this five-star book:

1) Accept that the Democrats cannot beat the Republicans base on base, issue on issue, or even on leadership, nor do we want them to. Instead, we need to create a Citizens Party that is a non-rival (this is important–NON-RIVAL) “second home” or “dual membership” party with wings for each of the existing parties–Democratic, Republican, Green, Reform, Libertarian, etcetera. This coalition of moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, and all others can indeed beat the extremist Republican base if it aligns with the left of center but at least not lunatic Democratic base.

2) Accept that there is one issue and one issue ONLY where we can all agree: that the government is out of control and we need to restore representative democracy through a National Electoral Reform Act of 2007.

3) Finally, focus in 2008 on getting every incumbent and every challenger to join the Citzens Party and testify in writing that they will support the National Election Act of 2007 or face recall. Agree, or retire.

This is not rocket science. With the Internet where it is now, and the ground-breaking work of Joe Trippi (see also my review of his book, of Bill Moyer’s Doing Democracy, and of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics), we can do this.

The authors help make the case for WHY we have to go for broke this time around–it’s all for one and one for all time. We stick together on this one, this time, or we surely will go nuclear, fascist, and broke.

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