The Trouble with Inequality

Colloquium | November 20 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 127 Dwinelle, Academic Innovation Studio

 127 Dwinelle Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720

 Jeff Manza, Professor of Sociology, New York University

 Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, Goldman School of Public Policy, Center for Right-Wing Studies

Growing support for right-wing populist candidates and parties around the world raises questions about how citizens understand and conceptualize inequality. Many political-economic theories of democratic responsiveness emphasize the capacities of citizens to connect major societal changes with demands for new government policies. Rapidly rising high-end income and wealth inequality over the past 40 years has, however, not prompted Americans to demand significant changes in government policies relating to inequality, at least in their traditional social democratic form. This is true even in recent years, in which politicians and the media have significantly increased the amount of inequality talk they engage in. In this talk, I present evidence and analyze the nature of non-responsiveness to rising inequality in the United States. Three factors – rising partisanship, declining links between income and redistributive attitudes, and optimism about mobility chances – have contributed to preventing aggregate responsiveness in the way that previous theories have predicted. I conclude with some speculations about the implications for redistributive policy proposals in the future.