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Title: The Origin of Affluent Class Interests and Their Consequences for Inequality
Authors: Thal, Adam
Advisors: Mendelberg, Tali
Contributors: Politics Department
Subjects: Political science
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Affluent Americans have disproportionate influence on policymakers, and they use this influence to pursue policies that benefit their class financially. In doing so, the affluent contribute to rising inequality. Yet few studies have considered why the a✏uent behave in this way. Instead, researchers assume that all social classes pursue financial gain through politics to improve their material well-being. I test and ultimately reject this assumption in favor of a novel theory of diverging class interests, which holds that the affluent have the unique luxury of pursuing their class interests for reasons based in their social-psychological need for esteem. In the first section, I conduct an analysis of the affluent’s preferences on economic policy issues. Rather than holding consistently conservative preferences across economic policy domains, the affluent are strongly conservative specifically on policies that implicate their ability to make money. In addition, I provide evidence that the affluent are more likely than other social classes to use politics to pursue policies that benefit their class, suggesting that this tendency may be rooted in affluent Americans’ class culture. In the second section, I use a large panel dataset to test competing explanations for how affluent Americans’ class culture drives them to support policies that benefit their class financially. I find that this behavior is rooted in affluent Americans’ value system, particularly the value they attach to the goal of making more money than others. In the final section, I use a novel survey scale of my own design to show that affluent Americans’ pursuit of their class interests is associated with the value they attach to money as a means of generating esteem. By contrast, valuing money as a means of providing for the material needs of one’s family has far weaker associations with the affluent’s economic policy preferences. The tendency to pursue financial gain through politics out of a desire for esteem is most pronounced among affluent men, who are vastly overrepresented in positions of political and economic power. These men appear to contribute to inequality in part because they believe that net worth equals self-worth.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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