Paul Pierson: Goodbye to Pluralism? Studying Inequalities of Power in Contemporary American Politics


Monday, March 21, 2016, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Paul Pierson, John Gross Professor of Political Science, University of California at Berkeley.

The efforts of contemporary political scientists to understand American politics reveal a striking paradox. On the one hand, “Americanists” have documented a rapid increase in the inequality of political resources. On the other, they have largely failed to detect inequalities of power.

Most political scientists continue to insist that we lack clear evidence that the inequality of political resources translates systematically into markedly unequal influence over American government.

That leaves two possibilities. One is that they’re largely right – which would suggest that concerns about rapidly rising political inequality are overblown. Or they’re mostly wrong, which is the argument of this paper. Political scientists have mostly missed unequal influence because they’ve looked in the wrong places. 

View the paper

About the speaker

Paul Pierson is the John Gross Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley. 

Pierson’s teaching and research includes the fields of American politics and public policy, comparative political economy, and social theory.

His newest book, co-authored with Jacob Hacker, is due out March 29: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (Simon & Schuster). The book examines what’s good for American business and what’s good for Americans—and why those interests are misaligned.

"In this lively,engaging, and persuasive book, Hacker and Pierson explain how much of our health and prosperity rests on what governments have done. American Amnesia will help slow the intellectual pendulum that is currently swinging towards ananarchic libertarianism that threatens more than a century of American progress.”
Angus Deaton, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2015

“This is a fascinating and much-needed book. America once invented universal public education and sharply progressive taxation of income and inherited wealth, and has shown to the world that strong government and efficient markets are complementary—not substitutes. But since 1980 a new wave of anti-government ideology has prospered, and is about to make America more unequal and plutocratic than Europe on the eve of World War I. If you want to understand why this great amnesia occurred, and how it can be reversed, read this book!”
Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Pierson’s earlier books include Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010, co-authored by Jacob Hacker.) He is also the author of Dismantling the Welfare State? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment (1994), which won the American Political Science Association's 1995 prize for the best book on American national politics.

He is an active commentator on public affairs, and his writings have recently appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.

See also: Spring 2016