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Many Americans feel their financial well-being is under threat by factors such as job and retirement insecurity, health care costs, and spiraling college tuition. Yet few of us are motivated to become more politically engaged on these issues. In a Chats in the Stacks book talk, Adam Seth Levine presents his book American Insecurity (Princeton University Press, 2015), providing a new perspective on political behaviors that shape our financial well-being.

Levine explains that the very arguments intended to get people involved—asking them to donate money or time—remind them of their economic fears and constraints. When money is needed, those personally affected do not become politically active. When time is needed, participation is limited to those not personally affected or those who are affected but outside of the labor force with time to spare. Levine’s key discovery is that rhetoric about economic insecurity issues is actually self-undermining. Adam Levine is assistant professor in the Department of Government at Cornell. His work has won numerous awards, including the 2011 E. E. Schattschneider Prize.