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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter May 17, 2017

Adam Smith Would Be Spinning in His Grave

Government by the Rich in the United States
  • Nicholas Carnes EMAIL logo
From the journal The Forum


Politicians in the US tend to be vastly better off than the people they represent. But why, and does it matter? In the last decade, scholar of US politics have revived an old line of inquiry into the causes and consequences of government by the privileged, or what I call white-collar government. This article briefly reviews what scholars have learned, and what we still need to know. Most research to date has focused on the effects of government by the privileged; just as the shortage of female politicians seems to bias policy on gender issues, the shortage of politicians from lower-income and working-class backgrounds appears to tilt economic policy in favor of the more conservative positions typically favored by more affluent Americans. Why, then, do so few lower-income and working-class Americans go on to become politicians? On this point, scholars have more hunches than hard evidence.

Corresponding author: Dr. Nicholas Carnes, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Box 90245, Durham, NC 27708, USA


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Published Online: 2017-5-17
Published in Print: 2017-4-25

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