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July 23, 2012 11:45 AM The Best Book in Decades on Political Inequality

By Larry Bartels

That’s Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America, by my friend and former colleague Martin Gilens, published this week by Princeton University Press and the Russell Sage Foundation.

The current issue of Boston Review features a terrific symposium on the book, with Gilens’s nice summary of the argument and reactions from  Russ Feingold, John Ferejohn, Archon Fung, Michael Gecan, Nancy Rosenblum, Kay Schlozman, Mark Schmitt, Barbara Sinclar, Matthew Yglesias, and me.

Of course, there is a great deal still to be learned about the role of economic power in the political process. But Gilens’s years of careful empirical research and his impressively fair and clear presentation of the evidence mark a major step forward in the scientific study of political inequality in America.

P.S. How many decades? Well, I’m a big fan of John Gaventa’s Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley (1980). But if Gaventa is not your cup of tea, there is always Robert Dahl’s Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City (1961).

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Larry Bartels is a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.