America's Inequality Trap

My latest solo-authored book is a collaboration with the University of Chicago Press. With a February 2020 release date, this book marks my most recent contribution to the study of economic and political equality. You can find more information about the book, including chapter summaries, short excerpts, online appendix material. and data and replication materials below.

The book can be purchased directly from the press or from Amazon if you prefer.


The gap between the rich and the poor as big as it's been in the past century. While by most measures the economy has been improving, soaring cost of living and stagnant wages have done little to assuage economic anxieties. Conditions like these seem designed to produce a generation-defining intervention to balance the economic scales and enhance opportunities for those at the middle and bottom of the country’s economic ladder—but we have seen nothing of the sort.

I argue that a key reason for this is politics. Rising inequality changes politics in several key ways that make combating inequality harder, thus creating a difficult to escape trap. Along the way, I address a series of important questions about how economic inequality and American politics shape and respond to each other over time. I ask how public opinion shapes distributional outcomes and how the public responds to rising inequality. I assess the effect of inequality on elections and how who controls government influences the gap between the rich and the poor. And I address the two-way relationship between the policymaking process economic disparity.

I find that, when a small fraction of the people control most of the economic resources, they also hold a disproportionate amount of political power. Among other things, the rich support a broad political campaign that undermines public and policymaker support for policies to reduce inequality. They also take advantage of interest groups to influence Congress and the president, as well as state governments, in ways that stop or slow down reform while at the same time generating policy changes that further contribute to their economic advantage. A key implication of this book is that social policies designed to combat inequality should work hand-in-hand with political reforms that enhance democratic governance as well as efforts to fight racism. A coordinated effort on all of these fronts will be needed to reverse the decades-long trend.