In their new book, two Yale professors — Sterling Professor of Political Science Ian Shapiro ’83 and Professor Emeritus of Law at the Yale Law School Michael J. Graetz — argue that it is not economic inequality, but rather economic insecurity, that concerns most Americans.
“The Wolf at the Door: The Menace of Economic Insecurity and How to Fight It” outlines the problem that economic insecurity poses for millions of Americans and offers concrete policy solutions to address it. The book, published on Feb. 18 by the Harvard University Press, also suggests how to form the political coalitions needed to enact the policy changes they suggest.
“Most people either write about politics or they write about policy. Almost nobody writes about how they interact,” Shapiro said. “So we wanted to make an argument about what sorts of policies would be constructive in the political world we live in today that are also feasible.”
Shapiro and Graetz argue that, contrary to political rhetoric, American citizens are not concerned with economic inequality and what “the one percent are earning.” Instead, the professors argue that personal economic insecurity — as well as how it impacts people around them — compels voters. They state that social scientists have found the prospect of loss to be a more potent motivator than the prospect of gain. They added that in assessing economic conditions, most people make “local comparisons” to people they know nearby or who are in similar industries and professions.
And although globalization used to be the main source of long term unemployment insecurity, people losing jobs to technology is now the primary reason for this phenomenon. And according to Graetz, college-aged students should expect to change jobs more than a dozen times over their time in the workforce — something that “may be an appealing prospect for highly educated Yale students,” but is terrifying for tens of millions of Americans. In order to bolster their argument, the authors filled the pages with “long forgotten historical examples,” according to Graetz.
“We hope our readers get a better understanding of both the politics and policies needed to address economic insecurity,” Graetz wrote in an email to the News. “We emphasize creating more jobs, making work pay better, and easing the transition from unemployment to reemployment. And we give examples of the wrong policies that have good politics and vice versa.”
According to Shapiro, the bottom 60 percent of the American population face a variety of challenges related to unemployment insecurity — including downward mobility, the prospect of their children having fewer opportunities than they did and increased parental dependence on their children. He stated that the policy suggestions in the book look to address the problems of people for whom employment insecurity is an “existential threat.”
And as many of the presidential candidates focus their platforms around economic policy — an issue that many voters take with them to the ballot box — both authors said that they hope political leaders will read the book and consider using it to shape their policy.
“Graetz and Shapiro wrestle with a fundamental question of our day: How do we address a system that makes too many Americans anxious that economic security is slipping out of reach?” wrote Jacob J. Lew, 76th U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, about the book on the website of the Harvard University Press. “Their cogent call for sensible and achievable policies offers a pathway back to functional governance and should be read by progressives and conservatives alike.”
In 2005, Shapiro and Graetz collaborated and published “Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth.”
Julia Bialek | firstname.lastname@example.org