This essay explores two critical moments in the recent history of US inequality, when economic measures drew attention to gaping disparities in the American political economy: the early 1960s, when popularized social statistical reporting led to the “discovery” of, and declaration of “war” on, poverty; and the 2010s, when the “1 percent” became a potent symbol of the increasingly extreme concentration of wealth. Despite pronounced differences, both moments reveal how even the most dramatic of measurements could be, and were, used as much to minimize as to reveal the broader dimensions of inequality, in ways that help us to understand the limited political response.

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