Chart: Washington Gridlock Linked to Income Inequality

Source: "Why Hasn't Democracy Slowed Rising Income Inequality?" <ital>Journal of Economic Perspectives</ital>, Summer 2013 edition

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


To the long list of problems linked to income inequality, you can now add another: political gridlock. As illustrated above, the dramatic fall and rise of income inequality over the past century correlates remarkably closely with the level of political polarization in the US House of Representatives.

On its face, this correlation seems incredibly counterintuitive. As a greater share of wealth concentrates in the hands of the top 1 percent of income earners, you’d expect the other 99 percent of Americans to act as a more-unified voting block, electing politicians who’d level the economic playing field.

But that hasn’t happened. And nobody really knows why.

The creators of this chart, which accompanied a paper in the most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, float a laundry list of explanations: the ideological influence of free market capitalism, falling rates of voter turnout among the poor, higher standards of living, gerrymandering, and the influence of money in politics.

Of course, correlation isn’t causation—we can’t say whether inequality fuels political polarization or vice versa. The widening ideological chasm in Congress has certainly prevented Washington from correcting the sort of policy mistakes—tax cuts, financial deregulation, “free trade” deals—that continue to enrich the few at the expense of everyone else. The question is whether the further growth of inequality will eventually change that, or, as it has in countries such as Egypt, fuel a politics ever more defined by extremes.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate