CROWDSOURCE: Massey’s American ‘Exceptionalism’

This week let’s use the crowdsource to discuss Douglas Massey’s piece, “American Exceptionalism”.  We will use this crowdsource as a way of making sense of his argument together.

A good place for us to start with deconstructing Massey’s argument is to figure out exactly what he thinks is so ‘exceptional’ about the United States.  Point blankly, what does he mean by ‘American Exceptionalism’?  From there, we can discuss why American has become so ‘exceptional’ in this regard, and if it has always been exceptional in this way, or if this is a recent development. In addition, please discuss what you find interesting, confusing intriguing or complicated about the article.  What passages stand out to you as significant and why?

Remember, this is a collective/group project, so you don’t need to respond to each of the prompts listed above – together we should respond to these questions.  In that regard, you should read others comments and add to the conversation (not repeat a point someone already made).  This may be responding to someone’s comment, or answering/trying to answer a question posed by another student, or questioning a point made by another student.

REMINDER: You are not posting to the blog for this assignment.  You will include your thoughts and responses in the comments section of this post.

Comments due by 12noon, Sunday 9/25/16

For more general information on the weekly crowdsource, click here.

Image by George Hodan


Weekly Crowdsource


  1. US Globalization of trade and commerce in the late 20th century spurred the the large scale rise in inequality. Between 1980 and 1995 the degree of domestic inequality grew by almost 40%- more than any country in the world. US’s pre-tax income is faulty similar to that of every other developed country, but the post tax income is drastically different. In trying to trace back to why our economy is the way it is we must look at the effects of roosevelts new deal. Though he created many social programs to reboost the economy and even help enfranchise the usually excluded African American population, it ultimately lead to the reduction of worker unions and thusly minimizing the voice of the average worker. Since workers could not defend themselves their wages began to decrease at the hands of larger corporations. By the 70s things went even further downhill when the program’s enacted by the new deal to help those falling through the cracks were dismantled due to budget cuts. At this point unemployment began to rise again. In addition the government spent very little on benefits for the unemployed, leaving them to largely fend for themselves. From this point things just got worse and worse as the minimum wage, welfare, Income transfers, and federal employment were all cut back causing many people to fall into poverty. In this way we can see that the structural perspective we spoke about in class is really in effect. When the economic system is not organized property, the hardworking, common people suffer. In stark contrast, these past few decades have brought many benefits for the upper class. Often times the greater the income the lower the tax is, which honestly is completely backward to me. And the rich usually have enough connections to buy themselves political influence and ensure their security. Massey argues that for due to the US’s lack of action against these alarming polarization- we have become the exception among all developed countries.

  2. “Globalization creates pressure for greater inequality throughout the world, but the pressures are expressed more fully in the United States than in other developed nations.” Massey begins his argument mentioning the rising inequalities that have many factors including, technological change and market segmentation. Massey talks about how Smeeding computed Gini indices of income inequality before and after taxes, he found that the redistribution of income was lower in the United States than any other country in the world. He later mentions how “hyper-inequality” happened because of institutional arrangements specific to the United States failed to redistribute income to the same extent as theses other countries or industrial nations. More inequality opportunities emerge when United States political economy has be restructured to give managers, owners, and producers an advantage over consumers, workers, and employees. We also see that money talks in our on government systems. Massey mentioned that wealthy donors provide politicians money they need in order to gain favors that will benefit them, which are the wealthy. So by this, the American political economy has been rewritten to favor the rich at the expense of the middle lower classes. Massey then ends it by questioning why the policies have been allowed to benefit the rich and not the other way around. He then proposes two answers. One is that American politics has gone from “one person, one vote’ to one dollar, one vote”, which I found amusing because it’s true. If you’re rich in this country you have the ability to influence how politics works which is very dangerous. The second is because of the legacy of race, which continues to divide people into many groups and politicians don’t want to server those of lower class if it doesn’t benefit them. That’s what makes us unique from other nations.

  3. In the article, Massey claims that globalization creates rising inequality everywhere around the world which is natural, but it is only the United States that has the highest inequality in socioeconomic and tolerant to it as well. Known as American Exceptionalism Massey believes it is originated from racism and Americas unique ideals on freedom. “In writing the US constitution, southerners were determined to create a weak national government that would not be able to end slavery and impose a system of free labour on the states. The resulting fragmentation of power…” Proving that from the very start Americas inequality is only tolerable because of racism, which has grown to a economic issue of how wealth is distributed.

  4. I wouldnt say that Massey was comparing the US inequality to that the rest of the world, i would say that he was comparing the US to the developed world. However, that quote that you put from the article is very relevant to the time period when slavery was a building block for America’s economy. However, slavery does not play a part in our economy and our government has a lot of power. How much it should have is debatable, yet the government still has a lot, with programs like social security it will continue to do so.

  5. Massey’s arguments as to why there is a large discrepancy with the inequality of wealth in this country are the same reasons everyone else is saying there is. De-unionization, lower taxes, and the minimum wage being lower than it should be. While i agree with his liberal/ borderline socialism views to some extent, i disagree with the time frame that he states that Union power began to decrease. Everyone speaks about the America’s economy in the 1970’s as if it was the golden age. Yet, if one read his article with no background knowledge, one would think that America’s economy must have collapsed and the poor must have been really poor due to all the reasons that he stated. All the facts point to the American economy beginning to downturn around the late 1950’s and that is just too far back in time for that to actually happen. Globalization was always relevant but the amount of globalization the occurred in the 1990’s until the current time is unprecedented and that is when he could use his arguments and points made to prove a point. not really just state what happened in the 1950’s that is affecting us now. What happened in the 1990’s that lead to where we are now?

  6. Massey argues many of the obvious reason for the inequality of wealth in our country, but also brings up some interesting and controversial points. Globalization creates pressure in any society but was more prominent in America during the late 20th century because of many reasons. Pre tax income in America is not so different compared to other developed countries; in fact it could be higher than most but after tax income is why we see this enormous gap in the countries wealth distribution. Due to all the problems America was facing roosevelt proposed the New Deal in order to create social programs to boost the economy by creating jobs. Including African Americans was in the benefits of the new deal were efforts to turn from the racism and help spread wealth. Although this was a positive step towards helping the US economy the rich were getting richer and the working class and poor stayed that way. My point comes back to social mobility and how hard it is to really beat the statistics and rise in the socio-economic status.

  7. Douglas S. Massey points out various different reasons as to why poverty has been and still is a major problem in our economy. It’s difficult to pin point specific reasons as to why this may be, which is why there are still so many different opinions on poverty, but Massey decides to go with the political spectrum as to why poverty may still be at large. At first, he speaks about the government’s role in poverty and how things like deunionization, because “[f]alling levels of unionization translate directly into lower wages” (13), the falling of the minimum wage, because parents earning minimal wage with a big family would not be able to support them and fall under the poverty line, taking away programs that aid people and give them things to fall back on like unemployment benefits, getting rid of government jobs, and the rising debt that people are finding themselves in. Then, he focuses on how money would be able to buy people political advantages, furthering the point that there is a wealth inequality because there are so many people at the top that have the money to buy influence, and they are doing just that to make sure no more of their money is lost. In my opinion, i feel like the corruption at the top of the food chain is a very big problem, especially when the ones with money are making it so that they will be given the advantage, even though they are clearly the ones with it already due to their extreme wealth.

  8. I agree with you when you say that it’s difficult moving up the economic ladder, because like Massey pointed out in the last half of his essay, political leaders and those with affluence are able to change the laws and make new ones that bend in their favor, which is why it’s difficult to move up since there are always factors working against the people at the bottom of the food chain. If there weren’t so many corrupt at the top, with the help of the government we would be able to shift the inequality. We’ve already seen the statistics on how many people think the ratio should be more even, but the wealthy don’t want to share what they have.

  9. Massey explains how America fails to redistribute income between those at the bottom and those at the top. It stood out to me how the average degree of income inequality within nations grew by almost 40 percent between 1980 and 1995. Inequality has surged more in the United States than anywhere else. “All countries compete in the same global economy and face the same technological market conditions, yet the U.S is unique among advanced nations in the degree to which it allows these large, macro-level forces to generate inequality” (10). Another thing that stands out to me when reading this article is how when the New Deal was proposed it redistributed wealth and income from the wealthy down toward the middle and lower class. This happened during the 1930s. Today, we have such a large gap between the rich and the poor, people are struggling yet we see that the affluent have it easier and do not have the financial obligation to support the public. Those with the most resources used to be expected to pay the higher taxes, but now that is not the case. Legislative outcomes are strongly associated with the preferences of the affluent. This shows how the system is corrupt and looks at money before they want to help the citizens in the middle and lower class. Massey links America’s heritage of racism to the division of the poor, working class, and middle class Americans. He calls America “exceptional” due to the amount of inequality it tolerates. But are we really tolerating it? In some way yes, because we don’t see a major revolution going on but at the same time, I know that Americans are fed up with this system and are impatiently waiting for major changes. They may have lost hope considering these consistent acts of inequality.

  10. In Massey’s argument, American Exceptionalism is the idea that even though the United States is tolerant or at least in no way ignorant of the racial inequalities that exist today, we are still one of the more developed nations in the world yet we are maybe the only one that allowed the pressures of globalization cause such serious inequality. I think Massey is really astounded by the fact that we live in a democracy where we vote for what we want and have managed to allow policies that only benefit one fifth of the population. We are a country that claims to be great and we clearly want to be what we claim to be but we are still one of few nations that have a developmental status so high and so many internal problems dragging us down.

  11. In Douglas S. Massey’s “Globalization and Inequality: Explaining American Exceptionalism,” he discusses how the United States is so “exceptional” due to the “rising inequality over the past 30 years [that] has been attributed to a variety of factors, including globalization, technological change and market segmentation” (10). What he could mean by “American Exceptionalism” is that when the United States attempts to create economic achievement for all, it unintentionally has negative impacts on society as well. He believes this “exceptionalism” was brought upon by two factors: “the first is the rising role of money in American politics and the shift from a system of ‘one person, one vote’ to a new politics of ‘one dollar, one vote,’ [whereas] the second is the legacy of race, which continues to divide poor, working class, and middle class Americans from one another and deliver their political support to politicians who serve the powerful, wealthy, and affluent” (22). The reason why America could have become so ‘exceptional’ in this regard may be due to “falling rates of unionization, a declining minimum wage, reduced welfare coverage, falling income transfers, and declining federal employment [that] have placed families in the lower portion of the income distribution in very precarious circumstances” (16-17). What I found intriguing about Massey’s piece was when he discusses how despite the fact that political leaders “rewrote the rules of the American market to reduce the bargaining power of labour, lower the minimum wage, curtail social safety nets, limit transfer payments, constrict public employment, and make debt more expensive to acquire and difficult to escape,” they also sought to “rewrite the rules of the economic game to make life easier for the affluent by reducing their financial obligations in support of the public good” (18). This statement also presents a downturn effect for some families, as seen in Jana Kasperkevic’s discussion on the benefits cliff; her “paradox” presents the idea that “as higher minimum wage attempts to lift low-wage workers out of poverty and help them get off benefits, … the few extra dollars tacked onto their pay checks cause them to lose their federal benefits, including food stamps or housing subsidies.”

  12. After reading this article I found out so many things that I had no idea had occurred. I didn’t realize that globalization created pressure for greater inequality all around the world, but its in the United States where these pressures that are being created due to globalization are most expressed. In this article American Exceptionalism is the idea that the United States does understand that there are racial inequalities that do exist, we still allow the pressures of globalization to cause so much inequality. I knew that the United States has an extremely bad problem when it comes to income inequality and as it states in this article this is due to the failure to redistribute income most effectively. This article also spoke about how when the Democratic party decided to include African Americans in the benefits of the New Deal, this was when income inequality took off, making the very wealthy people the only people able to afford their interests. One other thing that I found really interesting is that the entire world struggles against globalization and the pressures it causes for inequality but somehow the Untied States is still worse off than the rest of the world.

  13. Messy points out that in the globalization creates pressure for greater inequality throughout the world, but these pressures are expressed more fully in the United States than in other developed nations. (9) In the article he mentioned rising inequalities have many factors including , technological change and market segmentation. Messy addressed all the countries compete in the same global economy and face the same technological and market conditions, yet the United States is unique among advanced nations in the degree to which it allows these large , macro level forces to generate inequality. He also talked about Smeeding computed Gini indices of income was much lower in the United States than anywhere else and this hyper- Inequality happened because of institutional arrangements specific to the United States failed to redistribute income to the same extent as theses other countries or industrial nations. Past several decades US political economy has been systematically restructure to give producers, owners, and managers the upper hand over customers, workers, and employees.(10). However, Mesey said the advantage of the wealthy is further enhanced by a political system in which those with money are better able to have their interests served legislatively than the poor or working classes.(9) Wealthy donors provide political money they need in favors so that will benefit them. Mesey states “ On the heels of this realignment, the rules of American political economy were rewritten to favour the rich at the expense of the middle and lower classes ” (22).
    I think this is so selfish and unfair how due to favouring the rich; middle and lower classes have to be suffered. Unions were weakened, entry level wages reduced, access to social protections curtailed, anti- poverty spending cut back and taxes on lower income families were raised while those on upper income families were reduced, yielding a sharp reduction in the size of the welfare state and a significant decline in the social well-being of most Americans. (21). In my opinion, due to this inequality problems, increasing social mobility is impossible and poverty will always remain in our economy. Rich will even get richer and the working class and poor will forever stayed the same. It’s difficult to move up, because those powerful, wealthy and affluent are the one who can change the politics or law, and they only do it to benefit themselves, and to against the people at the bottom. Therefore removing poverty with this inequalities seems impossible to me. Poverty is already so hard to remove in a fair condition, and in this inequitable situation, rising of inequality, we will never be able to solve this problem.

  14. In this article, the author pointed out that the pressures which is created by the globalization are expressed more fully in the United States than in other developed nations. Especially the distribution of US income after taxes is considerably less egalitarian. The government failed to redistribute income effectively and allow the pressures of globalization to be fully realized. The wealthy people would be more wealth when Roosevelt’s New Deal was implemented at that time. The poor lost their only opportunities to earn money. They were poorer than prior period. The unemployment rate was higher after the globalization in US compared to other developed countries. The Pandora’s box of contradictory forces was opened because of the wars. “The intensification of the struggle between labor and capital, the polarization of political ideology between communism and fascism, and a retreat from liberal democracy throughout the world” these inequalities were puzzle the government. The US inequality would not be solved until the government find out the balance between the globalization and the local economic development. For example, the employment should be stable.

  15. Massey brings up a lot of good points in his article. Inequality has been caused by globalization and it just keeps rising and rising due to the pressures of globalization. But I think a point that Massey really tries to stress is that it isn’t just globalization that has created such a big inequality problem in America, it’s “because of institutional arrangements specific to the United States that fail to redistribute income to the same extent as other industrial nations.” (10) I feel like today we see this inequality so much more than before because there’s such a big gap in income distribution. Also, American political economy just looks to purely benefit the rich and pay no mind to the middle and lower classes. Which doesn’t mean they are ignorant to the problems of the middle or lower classes, they are just choosing not to fix the problems. I completely agree that the inequality in America cannot be fixed until there is a steady, equal balance between globalization and local economic development.

  16. Since the idea of American exceptionalism is based on the amount of inequality that the United States tolerates, I think it has always been exceptional ever since it became a nation. From the institution of slavery to discriminating against minorities in the realm of politics and economics by denying citizenship to African Americans and generating more wealth to the upper class, it has never been as true of a democracy as it idealizes. Sadly, it has to be considered unique among other developed countries by the way it marginalizes the poor and prevents them from voting for the policies they favor. This situation has become so hopeless now that even when the working class would try to form unions, it would almost seem as if they’ve never even started anything.

  17. Douglas S. Massey talks about american exceptionalism. He wrote about Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal which was to create “a political economy that worked to the benefit of the middle and lower classes at the expense of the wealthy” (10). It was created to protect the middle classes or the lower classes from the political economy which gave them to protect them from the downturns in the economy and the troubles in their lives. They were trying to tax the wealth and to use the money they taxed the wealth and would used it toward the middle and the lower classes. They included African Americans under the protections of the welfare state which put an end to the New Deal coalition and led the “political realignment that restructured the American political economy in favor of the rich and powerful” (11). There was still inequality going on even though people would work the same job, but would get different income. Even in the past and in the future, there is still inequality going on. The people who are trying to earn and try to get richer, are not able to especially when the wealth and powerful people are the one who can change and do things that would benefit them instead of helping the middle or the lower classes. It is like when looking for a job, compared to someone who is looking for a job, the people who have connections would get the priority for the job than the one who applies for the job.

  18. I agree how inequality won’t be fixed until the government finds the balance. They should really help balance it out like the employment. People are not able to find an employment especially if they would choose a person who they have connections to or have a better background in their studies compared to someone who wasn’t able to have a good background especially when they weren’t able to afford to have one. They should give them both equal opportunities and give them a chance to prove that they are reliable and they are fit for the job especially for the person who doesn’t have a good background.

  19. I strongly agree with you when you said that political decisions are based on what those with power want. But those with power are also usually the wealthy ones in society. I think that Massey agrees with you when he says that it used to be “one person, one vote but now it’s closer to “one dollar one vote”.
    As the quote says: “money talks”

  20. I agree that Massey’s argument has to deal with the U.S’ tolerance of inequality. What Massey truly believes to be astounding and what is exceptional about America is essentially what is negative about this nation. The rich getting richer and benefiting while those impoverished and in the middle class have less and less access to resources, having to deal with the aftereffects off the government’s decisions, which is a huge result of the choices the government made through the late 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s. As a society in which we can vote and make decisions, we still manage to allow racial inequality and income inequality, and increasing both inequalities through other features such as globalization. When one thinks of exceptionalism, greatness and success comes to mind, but Massey believes that the main thing America is great at is allowing for inequality to continue, in the form of globalization, racial, and financial inequality.

  21. In Douglas S. Massey’s “Globalization and Inequality: Explaining American Exceptionalism”, he discussed that pressure which globalization created was for increasing inequality and expressed more fully in the United States. He analyzed why and how World War 1, World War 2, and Cold War effected the globalization. A political economy which Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created helped the middle and lower classes to get the benefit at the expense of the wealthy. De-unionization affected the level of unionization in the United States since 1930. The labor movement did not catch the same level of prominence as in other industrial democracies even though the level of unions raised under the New Deal. Many workers moved out of the middle of the income distribution and downward toward its lower reaches because the US congress and the American president made specific policy decisions in 1947, 1959, and 1981. Based on Figure 4, the minimum wage increased from $5.9 to $9.2, but the minimum wage decreased from $9.2 to $5.4. The frequency of strikes and the wages that were earned by the workers had a positive relationship in the United States. As a result, the unions were weakened. The United States is an immigrant country. Race was an important reason in dividing poor, working classes, middle classes.

  22. I like the way that you explained what the article was talking about, I had a little more trouble understanding the basic idea of it. You explained it in a clear. It makes sense now about the part how the New Deal was to help create an economy that would benefit the poor and middle class- at the expense of the wealthy. But then it all got restructured so that the economy favors the rich and wealthy- which is where the inequality we know of came in a lot more. Specifically because the way the economy is most beneficial for those who have the money and can do things that people without money- even f they are trying t get more money- can’t do.

  23. Douglas S. Massey goes on to discuss the various causes of why poverty still exists in our society and why it is so difficult to understand the inequality of wealth between the poor and the rich as well as american exceptionalism. Although there are many reasons as to why poverty still exists, one of Massey’s main points is globalization but rather how inequality affects globalization which as he states causes inequality of wealth throughout the world but is seen mostly in the United States than any other nation and how the economy can benefit both of the working class so it isn’t unequal. As the wealthy get wealthier, they begin to have more power in the economical structure will is unjust to the poor because then they don’t move up the ladder because the wealthy controls laws and such which ends up being an advantage for them and not the lower class which was to the expense of Roosevelt implementing the New Deal. “The wealthy had long opposed these redistributive policies, but until the 1960s they gained little traction politically…More than any other factor, it was the decision to enfranchise African Americans and include them under the protections of the welfare state that broke apart the New Deal coalition and led to a political realignment that restructured the American political economy in favour of the rich and powerful.” (11)

  24. I agree with your statement that, in terms of inequality, the United States has specialized in this since the development of its nation. Discrimination goes much further than racism. Unfortunately, our government and political system is composed of the wealthy upperclassmen who are going to impose laws and regulations to benefit their own social class. With that being said, the wealthy are going to do what they can to keep the wealthy at the top, with not much consideration to what is going on in the social classes below them. The wealthy continue to sit on top of the ladder; with capitalism, lower class workers are exploited. Certain people are always benefitting from this and ultimately have the power to invest to keep the system running this way, leaving the less-powerful people to suffer.

  25. I definitely agree with your interpretation of his argument. And i was also amused when Massey stated “on person, one vote to one dollar, one vote”. It’s s actually sad how much power people with money have in our society. Most extremely wealthy people (who were born wealthy) should not be influencing politics and laws. They’re only influencing policies that benefit them. Many of them don’t understand or care what lower income households need. I also found it interesting that he discussed how historical events contributed to globalization. Lastly this quote surprised me the most “The simple answer to this question is that money talks and politicians listen. In the contemporary political economy of the United States, wealthy donors provide politicians with the money they need to get elected. Around $3 billion was spent on electoral campaigns during the year 2000 (Public Campaign, 2003). In the 2002 elections, less than one-tenth of 1 per cent of all Americans accounted for 83 per cent of all campaign funds expended”. I find that to be completely ridiculous that that amount of money is spent on campaigning when there are so many problems in our society. Instead of spending billions on campaigning for political leaders that are barely going to make changes during their office; they should be spending money on funding programs to end poverty and homelessness and fixing the huge economic gap between rich and poor.

  26. Throughout this article the Douglas Massey’s “Globalization and Inequality: Explaining American Exceptionalism” he expressed the pressure for greater inequality throughout the world. These pressures were extremely more prominent in the United States compared to other countries throughout the world. Rising inequality has occurred due to many factors, for example globalization, technological change and market segmentation. I believe it is unfair that inequality exists and due to that the lower class has to suffer. An example mentioned in the article is Roosevelt’s New Deal. Unemployment rates skyrocketed and the poor lost many opportunities when it came to making money and a living. I found this article very interesting that although the entire world is struggling against globalization it is shown the greatest in the United States.

  27. The article tells us that globalization and inequality are closely related. US inequality grew by 40% between 1980 and 1995. The author of the article believes that this inequality comes from racism and the American image of freedom. We have a big gap between rich and poor people. There is no such thing as middli class. The taxes are too high for the poor people and government doesn’t care about it. Pre tax money looks good, and poor people can move to middle class, but at the end when taxes are calculated we can see that the numbers are very different from the original income. I think that the government should make a lower tax percentage for the poor people, because taking away more money lead to increase of poverty. Government should find the right way to solve inequality, by making a balance between globalization and economic development. Government should provide more jobs and forget about racism and gender inequality too. Every person in US should be treated the same way, because we are all humans, no matter which color and gender.
    I like these kind of articles because it gives you the opportunity to deeply think about the existing problems and to find their own ways to solve them.

  28. I agree with the point you brought up about the institutional arrangments that Massey says is another reason why the United States has failed at redistributing wealth properly. Another reason why people are taking notice of this is social media, the millennials have taken a huge stance on this because they are the ones suffering from this income inquality the worst. It’s come to the point where it can’t even blamed solely on rich people but the rich people in corporations that lobby in Congress for bills that favor them.

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