Print

Print


 

 		 [A living interactive publication grapples with the dimensions,
roots and consequences of inequality in the United States]
[https://portside.org/] 

 GROWING APART: A POLITICAL HISTORY OF AMERICAN INEQUALITY  
[https://portside.org/node/16767] 

 

 Colin Gordon 
 March 14, 2018
Inequality.org
[https://inequality.org/research/growing-apart-political-history-american-inequality/]


	* 
	*
[https://plus.google.com/share?url=https%3A//portside.org/node/16767]
	*
[https://www.facebook.com/sharer/sharer.php?u=https%3A//portside.org/node/16767]
	*
[https://twitter.com/intent/tweet/?url=https%3A//portside.org/node/16767&text=Growing%20Apart%3A%20A%20Political%20History%20of%20American%20Inequality]
	* [https://portside.org/node/16767/printable/print]

 _ A living interactive publication grapples with the dimensions,
roots and consequences of inequality in the United States _ 

 Sweatshop in Garment District, New York City, USA, Circa 1911, 

 

In December 2013, a year into his second term, Barack
Obama identified
[https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/04/remarks-president-economic-mobility]“dangerous
and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” as “the
defining challenge of our time.” That observation — two years
after Occupy Wall Street, four and half years into the “recovery”
from the Great Recession, and eighteen years since the growing income
share of the top one percent surpassed that of the
bottom _fifty_ percent — was both true and trivial.

Now, a long year into a new administration determined to deepen that
divide — even as it mines its resentments — our inequality
persists in starker and starker dimensions.

The digital project “Growing Apart: A Political History of American
Inequality
[http://scalar.usc.edu/works/growing-apart-a-political-history-of-american-inequality/index],”
is an effort to grapple with that challenge — its dimensions, its
roots, its causes, and its consequences.

My motivation and interest in this project flows from several sources.
As an historian of American public policy, I have written on
the political economy
[http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item1145085/?site_locale=en_GB] of
the New Deal, the politics of American health policy
[http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7552.html], and the long shadow
[http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14445.html] of racial
segregation in American cities. The central theme of this work, I came
to realize, was the failure of public policy to redress inequality
and, in many instances, its eagerness to sustain and widen that
inequality.

As a faculty member at a large public university, I have, over the
last quarter century, seen the fortunes and expectations of my
students hammered by unrelenting economic challenges, including the
erosion of state support for K-12
[http://www.iowafiscal.org/get-facts-on-school-funding/] and post-secondary
education
[https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/sfp_highered_ia.pdf].

And, as a researcher for a state policy think-tank (the Iowa Policy
Project [http://iowapolicyproject.org/], an affiliate of the Economic
Policy Institute’s EARN network [http://earn.us/]), I have come to
appreciate not just the corrosive effect that bad policy can have on
equality and equal opportunity, but the damage that inequality can do
to democratic aspirations and institutions.

For all of these reasons — academic, pedagogical, and political —
I started assembling “Growing Apart.” Some of the pieces first
appeared as blog posts for various outlets, and preliminary versions
of the project were published at Inequality.org
[http://www.inequality.org/] and as a series
[https://www.dissentmagazine.org/tag/our-inequality] at _Dissent_.
Intended as a “live” resource, this new version of Growing Apart
incorporates the latest data and new research (especially in the wake
of the Great Recession) on inequality’s causes and consequences.

GROWING APART
[http://scalar.usc.edu/works/growing-apart-a-political-history-of-american-inequality/index]

Explore the full interactive project
[http://scalar.usc.edu/works/growing-apart-a-political-history-of-american-inequality/index]

The goal of “Growing Apart” is threefold.  First and foremost, it
advances a _political_explanation for the growth of inequality in the
United States. Too often, our discussions of economic inequality are
prefaced by nods to the inexorable pressures of globalization and
technological change.

And yet, as causal forces, these cannot account for either the timing
and pattern
[https://www.epi.org/publication/technology-inequality-dont-blame-the-robots/] of
our inequality, or the yawning gap
[http://wir2018.wid.world/files/download/wir2018-full-report-english.pdf] between
the United States and its peers. In order to understand the
differences that matter — both across our own history and in
cross-national comparison — we need to understand inequality as both
a distributional outcome and a political choice
[http://cepr.net/documents/publications/inequality-policy-2009-10.pdf].

Second, “Growing Apart” advances an _historical _explanation for
the growth of inequality.  In this sense, our present-minded
fascination with the latest data, the distributional implications of
new or proposed policies, or the fallout from the last business cycle
often distract from a larger and longer story.  Once we turn our
attention to policy as a driving force behind trends in inequality, we
need to understand the full historical arc of those policies.

The now-familiar “suspension bridge” graph
[http://cepr.net/publications/graphic-economics/income-share-of-the-top-1-percent-1913-2012-annotated] of
top income shares in the United States captures the underlying
political pattern and logic.  Top incomes shares plummet with the
policy innovations of the New Deal but climb again as those
innovations — in labor law, in social policy, in financial
regulation, in taxation — were dismantled.

Third, “Growing Apart” offers an expansive and synthetic account
of the problem. The growth of inequality in the United States has been
accompanied by an explosion of academic interest in the problem, and
by remarkable advances in the availability, accessibility, and scale
of the relevant data. The goal, in this respect, is for “Growing
Apart” to distill the insights of historians and social scientists
on each of these pressing questions — tracing in turn the arc of a
policy and its implications for inequality. And the goal is for
“Growing Apart” to be nimble, updating key metrics and
incorporating new research as this important work continues.

While primarily an historical account, “Growing Apart” looks
forward as well. Implicit in the description of the past, and in the
comparison with our peers, is a conviction that we can do better. That
conviction, I hope, is attentive to both the accomplishments of the
“New Deal order” in reducing some forms of inequality and its
complicity
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/07/fdr-social-security-gi-bill/] in
sustaining others — to both policies and policy designs that worked
in the economy of the 20th century, and to those that will work in
the 21st.

_Colin Gordon is Professor of History at the University of Iowa._

	* 
	*
[https://plus.google.com/share?url=https%3A//portside.org/node/16767]
	*
[https://www.facebook.com/sharer/sharer.php?u=https%3A//portside.org/node/16767]
	*
[https://twitter.com/intent/tweet/?url=https%3A//portside.org/node/16767&text=Growing%20Apart%3A%20A%20Political%20History%20of%20American%20Inequality]
	* [https://portside.org/node/16767/printable/print]

 

 		 

 		 

 INTERPRET THE WORLD AND CHANGE IT 

 		 

 		 

 Submit via web [https://portside.org/contact/submit_to_portside] 
 Submit via email 
 Frequently asked questions [https://portside.org/faq] 
 Manage subscription [https://portside.org/subscribe] 
 Visit portside.org [https://portside.org/]

 Twitter [https://twitter.com/portsideorg]

 Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/Portside.PortsideLabor] 

 		 

 

To unsubscribe, click the following link:
&*TICKET_URL(portside,SIGNOFF);