A Critical Book Review
They contend that the inequality in income that is rising and a congress full of extremes in ideology has replaced inequality that is declining and consensus of politics of post second world war America. The authors start by presentation of evidence that both economic and political polarization have risen in the United States of America since 1970s. The recent increase in income inequality i.e. economic polarization and its evidence will be familiar to a lot of people. The issue of risen polarization of politics is more controversial. Some notions widely held about polarization in politics such as cultural and political divisions amongthe citizens of America or the ideological division between the blue states and red states are just myth.
The authors put more focus on political polarization among the politicians and not among the populace and to be specific, polarization as shown by the patterns of voting of representatives of the congress. The authors use the methodology derived from their earlier work that is important on roll call voting of the congress to assign each and every legislator to a position in ideological space. The prediction of a representative’s vote on a given measure is dependent on where his/her ideal position lies relative to a surface specific to the legislation piece. (McCarty, Poole & Rosenthal, p.37).
The authors have used a scaling technique to measure the polarization in politics. They have made use of this technique in the analysis of roll call votes by the congress members over the past 120 years in the rating their partisanship’s changes. The author’s evidence documents the trend that is strong toward polarization in politics after 1970. There is a very strong correlation between demographic and economic characteristics of districts of the congress and increased polarization in politics. The authors developed a model of relative income and voting behavior to simply their hypothesis about the relationship between the increased partisanship in politics and the electorate’s economic well being.
They found that income that is relative was an important factor in the support of voters for policies of the republican. This effect of income is much strong among Christian voters who are conservative and also in the South. Both seem to vote for their economic interest rather than for policies that are socially conservative. Their findings suggest that in the recent decades, voters who have a higher income have received more economic gains and have been supporting politicians who will offer them favors to paylower taxes. The authors dispute that the political fortunes of the immigrants that are poor are because of their lack of participation in the process of politics. Through data analysis, they have found the non-citizenship had two impacts on the behavior of voting.
These impacts are a disenfranchisement impact which separates non-citizens from citizens and a sharing impact which makes voters who are affluent less willing to share with non-voters who are less affluent. These two impacts make policies that are redistributive not attractive to voters. Those voters who are affluent have no will to support policies that would be of great benefit those who earn low incomes. The authors make a comparison between their results and with the sound bites offered by pundits and politicians after the election in 2004. The terror explanations or the moral values are not sufficient explanations compared to their findings that are carefully documented that the ticket for Republican did well in prospering the country’s areas and that terror voters were richer, whiter, more republican and more male. (McCarty, Poole & Rosenthal, p.91).
The authors having given enough evidence for polarization in politics, they ultimately get to the question that is of interest to them: What is the kind of relationship between economic and political polarization? They use a redistributive policy model that is highly stylized to frame the question. The main prediction is this model is that transfers that are redistributive will be a function that is decreasing of the median to mean income ratio i.e. as the distribution of income increased in the recent decades, the ratio of the median to mean fell and the process of politics should have responded by taking more taxes from the affluent people and giving it to the middles and poor classes. This model’s logic is very straightforward: as the ration of median to mean falls, the median voterrealizes that his gains from transfers that are redistributive outweigh the efficiency losses of a rise in the rate of taxes. (McCarty, Poole & Rosenthal, p.98-100).The authors have used paradox:
Contrary to the predictions of the simple model, federal policies have not been progressive over the recent decades. The authors do not provide an assessment that is comprehensive of trends in the distributional effect of federal policies, instead points key areas of policy which includes changes in the estate taxes that were of great benefit to the rich and the fall of the minimum wage’s real value. While the author’s assessment is appears plausible, the evidence that they selected is not satisfying. The authors have provided explanations of what can account for the failure of the model. The interpretation of the model of median voter is that redistribution should be dependent on the income of the voter and not on the family or median individual. It is true that the median American family’s income has decreased relative to the mean but the same cannot be thought of the income of the median voter.
It is likely that the rich vote more than the poor. The second explanation given by the authors is that the legislature’s polarization has made contributions to gridlock of policy which has made it to pass changes that are significant in the progressivity of the policy. (McCarty, Poole &Rosenthal, p.119).This book has some weaknesses in that the much of the author’s argument is misguided. A return to the moderates such as Heinz, Nunn, etc that they yearn for at this point in the politics in US would further increase the trend toward greater inequality inincome they so decry. The aspect that is most disappointing of this book is that the authors have not provided a good explanation of the highlighted trend: the ideologicalpolarization that has increased among the politicians.
They have denied that ideological trends among the voters are a driving force. They have also ignored changes in party orcongressional rules. It is clear that realignment of the party of the South contributed in rightward moving of the Republicans and democrats leftward but the authors acknowledge that polarization in politics has risen even outside the South. The authors of this book have put a lot of ideas that are interesting and a big amount of data analysis into a package that is very small. This makes the book to be very technical for a typical reader and also incomplete to totally satisfy the social scientist. The readers have tested and posited some explanations and others have been ignored. E.g. the rise in immigration plays a very important role in their story while unionization that is declining is not mentioned.
Another weakness is that the model of the median voter that frames the whole discussion of politics that are distributive makes an assumption that the revenue from a tax that is proportional will be distributed across the population evenly. The authors make a big mistake by thinking that inequality in income and polarization in politics cause one another. The whole book consists of these two variables. Despite all these short comings, the book offers many insights on the trends that are recent in the American politics. It also presents different hypotheses and methodology that will be of use to historians of the economy interested in issues of politics. (McCarty, Poole &Rosenthal, p. 119- 202).
McCarty N. Poole, K, T & Rosenthal, H. Polarized America: The dance ideology and unequal riches. Cambridge: MIT press, 2006.