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Video and Photos: Jacob Hacker Discusses Rise in Economic Inequality

Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice welcomed Jacob Hacker, author of the new book Winner-Take-All Politics, which examines the rise in economic inequality over the past three decades.

  • Erik Opsal
April 15, 2011

Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice welcomed Jacob Hacker, author of the new book Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

In the past three decades economic inequality has spiked. This has often been chalked up to the inevitable effects of globalization, technological innovation, and educational disparities. During a discussion at the Brennan Center, Hacker addressed this topic, citing the work in his recent book. Winner-Take-All Politics probes deeper into this question of inequality, finding an inflexible, fixed political system to blame, and asks why our public officials have rewritten the rules to benefit “the few at the expense of the many.” The good news? Because the roots of this problem are political, Hacker argues it can be fixed through sensible reform efforts.

Above is a video of Hacker’s appearance, and below are photos from the event and an excerpt from the discussion.

Discussion excerpt:

Hacker: Over the last few months I’ve stopped trying to convince people that rising inequality, both economic and political inequality is a crucial issue. It seems to sort of front and center in every debate that we’re having right now. It really drove it home to me when I was looking in the Summer of 2010 at some polling that was done by the Pew Research Center. They asked Americans, what seemed like a pretty innocuous question, “Do you think the federal government’s helped any of these following groups a great deal?” First, they asked about banks and large financial institutions. Fifty-three percent of Americans said that the federal government had helped them a great deal. Then they asked about large corporations and 44% said great deal of help. And then, it asked about the middle class. Does anyone want to hazard a guess at what percentage of Americans thought the middle class had been helped a great deal in the first two years of the Obama Administration?

Audience member: Two percent.

Hacker: Who got that? That’s amazing. Two percent. So a rather small number.

And that I think is the sort of backdrop for the story that I want to talk about today because in a very real sense these seem like sort of overstated perceptions of pessimism or cynicism about government, I think they have real basis that I think Americans are disillusioned about their sense that they have political power because in part there has been a pulling away of democracy from the middle class. The backdrop for this exploration, if you will, is sort of the startling trends of the last generation, which we describe with this phrase “Winner-Take-All.” We tend to think of economic inequality in terms of sort of the falling away of the bottom, but really the story the last generation is becoming increasingly clear is the pulling away at the top.