Economic Structure and Constitutional Structure
In the last four decades, the American middle class has been hollowed out, and fears are growing that economic inequality is leading to political inequality. These trends raise a troubling question: Can our constitutional system survive the collapse of the middle class? This question might seem tangential-if not unrelated-to contemporary constitutional theory. But for most of the history ofpolitical thought, one of the central problems of constitutional design was the relationship between the distribution of wealth in society and the structure of government. Two traditions emerged from thinking about this relationship. The first tradition assumed that society would be divided into rich and poor, and it designed class-warfare constitutions that incorporated economic classes directly into the structure of government. The second tradition was based on the assumption that society was relatively equal economically; as a result, it was not necessary to incorporate economic class into these middle-class constitutions. This Essay identifies these two traditions and traces their intellectual history from Aristotle through the eighteenth century. It then shows that the intellectual tradition of the middle-class constitution was alive and flourishing during the time of the American founding-suggesting that the collapse of the American middle class today has consequences of constitutional significance.