Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Problems, Policies and "Paradoxes:" The Political Implications of American Concerns about Economic Inequality
by Wright, Graham, Ph.D., Brandeis University, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, 2016, 149; 10191773
Abstract (Summary)

For the past several decades income and wealth inequality in the United States have increased dramatically, but policies to reduce inequality are often not politically feasible. Many scholars see this state of affairs as a “paradox,” arguing that, in a well-functioning democracy, an increase in economic inequality ought to lead to increased support for redistributive governmental programs aimed at reducing it. Research since 2008 attempts to explain this apparent paradox by arguing that although Americans are acutely concerned about economic inequality the continued lack of government action is due to structural barriers that prevent policy from reflecting the “will of the people.” However, methodological problems cast doubt on these conclusions.

I make use of analytic methods that address these issues and show that, despite the claims of past research, there is no politically meaningful relationship between Americans concerns for inequality and their desire for the government to take action. I first use a form of dynamic factor analysis to develop a measure of national concern for inequality over time and then use this new construct to answer the question which underlies previous work: when Americans become more concerned about inequality, do they subsequently become more supportive of government action? Using an error correction model I find that an increase in national concern for inequality concern does not lead to increased support for more government intervention in the economy.

My results suggest that even when Americans become especially outraged over economic inequality, there is no guarantee that they will flock en mass to liberal parties and policies for answers. During periods of heightened concern for inequality the “will of the people” may in fact be more likely to support reduced government intervention in the economy. I argue that, in order to truly understand the political implications of American views on inequality, researchers and advocates should stop assuming that concern for inequality is necessarily associated with liberal policy views, and start exploring the ways in which different policies and ideological positions can be coupled to the problem of inequality at different times, and for different people.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Doonan, Michael
Commitee: Ritter, Grant, Saxe, Leonard, Stimson, James A.
School: Brandeis University, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Department: The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 78/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science, Public policy
Keywords: Economic inequality, Public opinion
Publication Number: 10191773
ISBN: 978-1-369-51242-7
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