Presidents and the Political Economy: The Coalitional Foundations of Presidential Power


Jacob S. Hacker is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University and the Director of Yale's Institution for Social and Policy Studies.  He is the author or coauthor of five books, most recently, Winner-Take-All Politics with Paul Pierson.

Paul Pierson is John D. Gross Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley. His work focuses on political economy and public policy, both in the United States and in other affluent democracies.


Presidents shape the economy; the economy shapes presidencies. Yet analyses of presidential influence over the economy usually examine this interplay through an excessively narrow focus: the ability of presidents to shape short-term economic outcomes, particularly as these affect their own reelection prospects. Here, drawing on work in comparative political economy, we ask about the capacity of presidents to influence long-term economic developments, particularly the degree to which the economy produces broadly distributed growth. Focusing on the transformation of American tax policy over the last generation, we stress the constraints and opportunities that come from “durable policy coalitions” of partisans, activists, and organized economic interests seeking enduring shifts in governance. We develop this argument in part through a contrast with the influential views of Larry Bartels, who claims that presidents have a powerful immediate impact on economic inequality. We suggest that presidents are generally much more constrained, while attempting to clarify when and how they make a difference.