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Economic Inequality Is All the Rage

- January 19, 2012

Bill Moyers returned to television last weekend with a new series, Moyers & Company. (Check your local listings.) The first few installments focus on the politics of economic inequality, drawing heavily on a multi-hour interview with political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson about their much-praised 2010 book, Winner-Take-All Politics. Someone must be watching, since Winner-Take-All Politics was in single digits on the Amazon best-seller list earlier this week, and is currently #22. (That’s not #22 in some sub-sub-category, or 22 with three or four zeros after it, but #22 in Books.)

As part of the festivities–and being much less telegenic than Hacker and Pierson–I was invited to write a piece for the Moyers website assessing the political impact of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What I found, using YouGov survey data from mid-December, was not much:

There is remarkably little evidence here that the public as a whole has moved to the left on the most significant policy question currently bearing on the issue of economic inequality—or even that the public has become increasingly engaged in that debate over the past year. . . . So far, at least, neither the president nor the Occupy Wall Street movement has succeeded in transforming general public support for the principle of progressive taxation into effective support where it counts—at the polls—for the specific policies that are most likely to matter.

It is a testament to the open-mindedness of Moyers and his colleagues that they’ve posted this downer in the midst of their own enthusiastic celebrations of political progress on the issue of inequality: “America Wakes Up to the Reality: Inequality Matters”“Capitalism Debate Hits the Mainstream”; “Financial Crisis Tests Tolerance of Inequality”.

And who knows? Perhaps their efforts will contribute to making my analysis obsolete.