Prof. Wichowsky publishes new book on the politics of inequality

Wichowsky, Economic OtherProf. Amber Wichowsky recently published The Economic Other: Inequality in the American Political Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2020). Along with her co-author Meghan Condon, Prof. Wichowsky investigates an important paradox in contemporary US politics: economic inequality is at a record high, but public demand for redistribution is not rising with it. Their research shows that this paradox and other mysteries about class and US politics can be solved through a focus on social comparison. Powerful currents compete to propel attention up or down—toward the rich or the poor—pulling politics along in the wake. Using a blend of experiments, surveys, and descriptions people offer in their own words, their book reveals that when less-advantaged Americans compare with the rich, they become more accurate about their own status and want more from government. But American society is structured to prevent upward comparison. In an increasingly divided, anxious nation, opportunities to interact with the country’s richest are shrinking, and people prefer to compare to those below to feel secure. Even when comparison with the rich does occur, many lose confidence in their power to effect change. Laying bare how social comparisons drive political attitudes, Prof. Wichowsky examines the stubborn plight of inequality and the measures needed to solve it.