The US democracy crisis is not only a matter of voting; it is also a deeply economic crisis. The sharp and growing imbalance between the wealthy and the rest of Americans dramatically alters how public policy itself is formulated—and what those policies ultimately look like. American politicians and policymakers are consistently more responsive to the preferences of the wealthy, which drives public policies that further concentrate wealth and power for the most resourced constituencies and corporations. The result is a vicious cycle where economic inequality breeds political inequality, which in turn exacerbates economic inequality. That cycle can only be broken if we understand how these inequalities work and feed each other.

We are mired in a rampant and historic crisis of economic inequality, as more and more wealth is concentrated at the top. We can measure this in a number of different ways. Take wages: since the 1980s, American productivity (measured as how much workers produce per hour) has increased, but wages have been stagnant. Or economic security: even though we have seen headline indicators of aggregate economic strength, for many Americans, economic conditions remain precarious and far from secure (which is defined as having an income that is enough to meet basic expenses, including modest asset accumulation). Or consider business concentration: corporations have become larger, more powerful, and more profitable within their market sectors, which has led to higher prices, fewer new and innovative businesses, lower wages, and less worker autonomy.

These various measures of economic inequality suggest that the fundamental problem is not the lack of worker skills, which would imply that more and better education is the central answer. Nor is the problem simply a matter of annual income, though income inequality is a serious issue. No, the core economic problem is one of power, with wealth and influence concentrated at the top of American society and business.

Read the full article about economic power and American inequality by Felicia Wong, K. Sabeel Rahman, and Dorian Warren at Stanford Social Innovation Review.