A PUZZLE exists where America’s economics meet its politics. Income inequality is higher than in other rich countries, and the recent election was interpreted by many as the revenge of the left-behind, who found their champion in Donald Trump. Yet the candidate who made income inequality a campaign theme, wanted higher taxes on the rich and promised more financial regulation lost. Since the election, Mr Trump has nominated a cabinet with a combined net worth of over $6bn, by one estimate. He has invited the bosses of big corporations to advise him on economic policy. And he has filled key White House posts with Goldman Sachs alumni. The riches of top earners do not seem to bother voters nearly as much as many on the left would like them to.
In fact, some argue that a focus on inequality actually harmed Democrats’ chances. Most of the rise in inequality happened over a decade ago (see chart 1). Polls usually suggest that Americans care less about inequality than they do about economic opportunity. And voters have reason to worry about stagnation in the middle-classes. Median weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation, were the same in 2014 as they were in 2000. Health-insurance premiums have soared. A recent paper by Raj Chetty of Stanford University and colleagues documents the “fading American dream”. In 1970 more than nine in ten 30-year-olds earned more, in inflation-adjusted terms, than their parents did at the same age. In 2014 only half did.