Political Science | American Politics
Y661 | 5806 | Wright

Topic:  Economic Inequality and American Democracy

We are now into what some are calling the “New Gilded Age”
in which income and wealth are more unequally distributed than at
any time since the 1920s.  Moreover, the trend continues with
greater economic concentration at the top and economic stagnation
and decline for the middle class and poor in the U.S.  The
motivating questions for this seminar are what factors account for
the dramatic redistribution in American over the last 40 years? What
happens to notions of political equality in a society in which
resources are so distributed so unequally?  And, how is it that
citizens elect officials who promulgate policies which have allowed,
and by some accounts abetted, this concentration of the countries’
wealth and income in the hands of a sliver of the population? That
is, in a democracy, the fear has traditionally been that the many
will use government of confiscate from the few “haves,” but we see
today appears to be just the opposite. How can that be?
The course will cover aspects of political theory as we
examine schools of American political thought concerning economic
equality; public opinion and political participation in studying the
impact of unequal resources on political voice; interest groups and
parties in assessments of strategies that have led to policies that
yield less economic equality; Congress and the presidency as the
main policy making institutions that have been central to the
changed economic portrait that makes up contemporary America.
Finally, we will examine in some detail key policies such as the
federal budget, tax policy, and health care reform for what they
tell us about the politics of economic inequality.
Seminar participants will be expected to participate in
discussions of the assigned readings; make presentations on at least
one book from an assigned list for the class, and to undertake an
original research paper on some aspect of economic inequality and
politics or policy.