UT Assistant Professor in Political Science Nathan Kelly co-authored a study in September relating GOP congresses to the wealthiest one percent of Americans and explaining the income gap between the poor and the wealthy.
Kelly, along with Thomas W. Volscho, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at CUNY-College of Staten Island, published their findings in "The Rise of the Super-Rich: Power Resources, Taxes, Financial Markets, and the Dynamics of the Top 1 Percent, 1949 to 2008."
"What we found is that both the economy and politics affect the income gap," Kelly said. "Economic growth reduces inequality. Union membership reduces inequality. Having more Republicans in Congress makes inequality higher. Lower income tax rates make inequality higher."
One of the most important parts of these findings is that they were all considered before the effects of redistributive programs like Social Security and welfare that serve to lower inequality.
"So even before government takes money from some through taxes and gives it to others through benefit programs, policy choices have an effect on inequality," Kelly said. "This, in essence, shows that politics in part makes the market."
The study does not make a judgment on whether inequality is good or bad, but rather serves to examine the role that politics can have in how the U.S. market and economy are structured.
"The fact that we can put politics and policy right alongside globalization and stock markets and real-estate bubbles and economic growth and politics still matters is pretty amazing," Kelly said. "Lots of folks just don't believe politics is a cause of inequality. It's becoming clearer with every new study that politics does play a role."
Eric Keller, a graduate student in political science, has read extensively about Kelly's study and finds it very intriguing.
He argues that while inequality may not be good or bad, it is an important indicator of the economy.
"The problem isn't with inequality per se, it is with such severe inequality where there is little chance for anyone on the bottom rung to climb the ladder," Keller said, "The very top rung folks tend to kick the ladder away to maintain their monopoly on wealth. Less severe income inequality, more than likely, means a healthier economy since lower rungs spend more on consumer goods due to their much larger size."
While politics is not the only factor in determining inequality, Kelly says that it is important to account for this when voting in elections. Dealing with the issue of inequality and having an opinion will help voters align voting choices with beliefs.
"What we know from this study in terms of partisan politics is that Republicans produce more inequality than Democrats," Kelly said. "Inequality isn't necessarily important to every voter, nor should it be. But if you think inequality is a non-issue or are not concerned about it, clearly the Republicans have more to offer on this outcome. If you believe the gap between the rich and poor is too big, Democrats are the better choice."
For UT students who are about to vote in the upcoming presidential election, Kelly emphasizes the power that voters can have in the U.S. government and that the election will effect inequality.
"I hope that this research will disabuse people of the idea that the elections have no effect on inequality," Kelly said. "Our political choices matter. We cannot control inequality, but elections do matter. My hope is that this research can play a small role in helping people realize that elections have consequences for inequality and that they consider this issue as they vote."