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The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  267 ratings  ·  51 reviews
In this original, provocative contribution to the debate over economic inequality, Ganesh Sitaraman argues that a strong and sizable middle class is a prerequisite for America's constitutional system.

A New York Times Notable Book of 2017

For most of Western history, Sitaraman argues, constitutional thinkers assumed economic inequality was inevitable and inescapable--and
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended!!! There have been heaps of books written on inequality in the last 10 years but to my knowledge none that have focused on economic equality as the underlying foundation of our constitution. I'm already due for a rereading though because I can no longer remember his rebuttal to cynics who believe the constitution was written to simply protect the wealthy.

Hopefully this book falls into some conservative hands and let's them put their respect for the constitution and the
Conor Ahern
I'm very glad that this man is an advisor to Senator Warren.

Employing a panoramic view of history, Sitaraman analyzes how previous successful states/empires defined the rights of various classes, and how the American experiment was very much propounded in a land of economic parity, and that the Founders intended/assumed that it would stay that way. Much of the stability required for checks and balances requires a predominant buffer class that can mediate between the rapaciousness of the upper
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a nice sweep of democratic history that contemplates what it means for the democracy to have such stark inequality. Sitaraman's thesis, and it is a provocative one that I agree with, is that drastic wealth inequality threatens the foundations of our constitutional democracy because our founding documents were based on a more equal distribution of wealth. I think we talk about class struggle too little in the US as if not talking about it will make the tension go away. As we've seen, ...more
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ganesh Sitaraman's book is a study of how economic inequality influences the functioning of a republican form of government. The "inequality" content is well known and draws from the major researchers on the topic such as Thomas Piketty. What is new and interesting here is how Sitaraman draws out the implications of inequality for political society.

The premise of the argument is that political power follows economic power, so that as society becomes more unequal, government will increasingly
Shenard Robinson
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Worth a re-read to better understand how each of us contributes to the overall decline of public virtue and what responsibility means to a Republic.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Spent most of this wanting to sob but settled on deep sighs. I would love to have copies sent to every Trump supporter who is not a billionaire.
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: sitaraman
finished this one this morning, 10 jun 17, 6:21 in the a.m. 3 stars, i liked it. informative. our government, what can one say? sitaraman ranges from the time of the ancient greeks to our nation's founding to the present day and touches briefly on the election of 2016, describes and defines what type of constitution we have, what it could have been, what it is, makes a distinction between a "class warfare constitution" and what we have a "middle-class constitution" and does not go into much our ...more
Richard Thompson
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
When I find myself completely agreeing with a book that has a clear political point of view, I wonder if I am just letting myself be drawn into the trap created by the internet and cable news channels where people see their own often wrong views reflected back on themselves and happily bask in the clarity of their own narrow and poorly conceived vision. So as I read this book I alternated back and forth between smiling in agreement and nagging self doubt, worrying that I had let Mr. Sitaraman ...more
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: summer-2018
After taking a break from this for some classwork, I managed to finish it up. It's a well sourced, well written, and well argued book about the past, present, and potential future of our republic based in the economic system we experience. I'm a bit of a policy wonk, and so while a lot of what was in here was not news to me it provided a good compilation of the information. I was also very pleased with the section on ideas for the future of our democracy.

In all, this book got me pretty fired up
Michael Baranowski
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you're expecting a typical liberal lament about the passing of the good old days of the 1950s - early 1970s with the strong unions, high top tax rates, and heavy regulation ... well, you won't be entirely disappointed. But this book is a lot more than that. Sitaraman's look at constitutional theory is fascinating and should be of interest to both liberals and conservatives. I've been a political scientist for 20 years, and it's rare that a book written for a general audience has so much in it ...more
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Factual & well-written but the theme by now is more than familiar. Money has a gravitational effect on politics. The wealthy have more influence than the poor and as inequality increases, the effect grows & becomes more pernicious. The U.S. at the beginning was a nation of yeoman farmers with negligible extremes of wealth & poverty. Its constitution was conceived, written & adopted in that context & it has functioned as long as those conditions prevailed. When inequality ...more
Ailith Twinning
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017
"The Middle-Class is essential to a non-Totalitarian Republic."

There, now you don't have to read this.

This guy just paints a patently false view of post Revolutionary America. It's annoying. You wanna make your argument, fine, absolutely fine, but leave history out of it. It gets much more accurate post-Civil War, but is always ignoring or handwaving everything that doesn't fit the narrative, while the narrative is constructed almost entirely out of quotes. Pure theory.

In other words it's just
Corrine Burmeister
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazingly well thought-out and articulated view of the main source of what ails America today - the decline of the middle class and lack of economic mobility. This book really got me thinking and now I feel informed about several areas I will look for future candidates I vote for to support: anti-trust laws, campaign finance reform, progressive tax and inheritance reforms, among other things. Every American should read this book, or at least be familiar with the concepts Sitaraman espouses.
Eddie Rubio
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must read for all

This is a great book that offers succinct historical insight to help understand where we came from, how we got here, and where we should go. Readers of all political leanings would greatly benefit from reading this book, except for perhaps the economic elites who live to only maintain their wealth, and not promote the existence of our republic. At the very least, some chapters of this book should be required reading for high school students.
May 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: us-politics, law
There are no surprises here: wealth influences politics. In the US, most elected officials to national office spend more time raising money for their next election than they spend in the committee rooms of government. It's safe to say the donors will have a say in just about everything. As will the corporate lobbiests, the Goldman Sachs financiers appointed to Cabinet positions, and (although Sitaraman does not mention it) professors at elite institutions.

In this miasma of corruption, Professor
Tom Stone
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: government
An ambitious of overview of the history of democracy, from the Greeks onward, and lessons for today where wealthy corporations and financial elites have effectively captured all the levers of power (legislatures, courts, corporations, elite universities, and the executive branch) in the US and the threat that this holds for a functioning democracy. Over time power has become more and more concentrated at the top. He writes "Less than 2% of members of Congress had working class jobs before ...more
Varrick Nunez
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a more challenging read, as the author lays out his assessment of the history of constitutional government and makes a case for our Constitution as a "middle-class" vice a "class-warfare" constitution, with many direct quotes from the founders that they intended to not have concentrations of wealth and create a neo-royal class of entitled elites. Mr. Sitaraman reviews the history of constitutions from ancient Greece on, and presents suggestions for a way forward.

It will be a tough fight
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
An extremely comprehensive explanation on how government has contributed and supported the middle class, the fall of those ideals, and potential solutions. It starts with a history of our proto-government system (Rome), continues to the intentions of the founding fathers when writing the constitution, and then chronicles the economy and various policies that were born from those times.

I think if you are at least moderately politically active, you've probably at least heard of some of these
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
The premise of this book is that relative economic equality is necessary for republican government. It begins with the history of the idea going back to Greek and Roman republics and writings from Machiavelli (not The Prince) and other who influenced the American founders. Then we have American history where in the early years this was the most equal nation in the world (excluding blacks and natives, as noted in the book) due to having enough land for anyone to make it on their own. James ...more
Jonathan Simpson
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Ganesh Sitaraman's book feels like a convenient thesis in search of greater meaning. Trying to dead-lift the depressing economic reality of modern America into a constitutional crisis feels like a cul-de-sac. Sitaraman's descriptions of income inequality and government capture by the wealthy is disheartening in the extreme (with good reason), and he delivers it with a certain amount of panache. But I could never shake the tedium, because it left me with the question of "so what?" And I don't ...more
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's rare for a book to actually change one's POV, but I could actually feel my mind expanding as I dug through this dense read. I don't think this is a case of me staying in my political bubble and hearing what I want to hear. This is a deep dive into how our constitution differs from all those that went before it, what makes it great, what makes it vulnerable, and the political and economic forces that have buffeted and shaped it over its 240+ year history. It's not for the faint of intellect. ...more
Greg Strandberg
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
I really liked this book. I skimmed through much of the historical Greece stuff but really got into the later chapters that deal with our own time.

Here's just one passage that stood out to me:

“In fact, 56 percent of all disclosed spending on lobbying in 2012 came from just 3,587 corporations. If we add trade associations and business-wide associations, the number jumps to 78 percent of all lobbying money. Between 1998 and 2010, corporations increased spending on lobbyists by 85 percent (to $2.09
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent historical and social analysis of how we reached the levels of economic inequality that threaten the existence of the Middle Class. The author presents a strong case that the concentration of wealth in the top levels of society threatens the very nature of our government. He shows how this tendency for wealth to concentrate has been dealt with in the past and offers some suggestions for future redirection. This is a book Americans need to read if they want to keep living in ...more
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow, I finally finished. This was not an easy read but well worth it. It's like reading a doctoral dissertation, incredibly well researched. Seriously, there are nearly 100 pages of footnotes! Anyway, lots of stuff you may know on a singular basis but this really puts the whole big picture together over the course of centuries of history. Many models of constitutions that I was not familiar with. Again, well worth the effort to read for anyone concerned with today's issues.
Blaine Morrow
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sitaraman contends that the U.S. Constitution was founded to protect the middle class at a time when relative economic equality existed. He provides historic and research -based evidence to demonstrate that class warfare and the threat of insurrection have been important political motivations, and may jeopardize our current system. Though the discussion tends to be high-brow, it is important and cogent.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
Overview of various forms of constitutions, followed by a longer examination of U.S. history and the U.S. constitution. Sitaraman posits that the foundation for our form of constitutional government is a strong middle class.

Interesting history and convincing arguments, but I felt the author was a little too enthusiastic at times about quoting every single historical figure he could from whom he could find a quote.
Jennifer Weeks Ph.D
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Never in a million years thought I would read a constitutional history book but given the state of the world, this called to me. It was really very good. Though it has been a long time since I had a history class, I do not recall ever learning the history of the constitution. This was a really good read.
Keane Gleeson
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After reading this I am even more concerned about the inequality in the US. This concern wouldn't be so great if it weren't for that infamous Citizen's United case. Now it seems that the richest people can hand pick who they want to make the rules. This book makes you appreciate the importance of a strong middle class and fearful that if things don't change we're heading for class conflict.
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While I disagreed on some of his points, he did a good job laying out the economic history of classism in the US, and I learned a lot.

Also, the author was/is a main policy guy for Elizabeth Warren, so reading this book gave me some additional insights into her campaign. Well worth reading for that alone.
A quick and interesting read. Anyone interested in income inequality or political science will enjoy this book. It looks at the fall of Rome, political philosophy on different forms of government, the history of class struggles around the world, the formation of the US, and the evolution of government and politics leading to the shrinking middle class and growing income inequality in the US.
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