The Return of Inequality

The great bulk of Americans are losing economic and political power, while the affluent are gaining both .This is not a recipe for social comity


SOCIAL IMAGINATION OFTEN LAGS BEHIND SOCIAL fact. Long after farming had ceased to be the premier American occupation, for example, we thought of ourselves as a nation of farmers, and the small town still serves as a touchstone of Americanness. This essay will explore a similar lag between a picture in our minds and a quantifiable social reality—a phenomenon that challenges an image of America which is about as true to our condition as those Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers that move us to nostalgia. The phenomenon is not poverty. Our mental picture already has a place for that. Poverty has a claim on our moral sense; it stirs our beneficence and concern. Liberals and conservatives may disagree about its scope, but they acknowledge its existence and they join in deploring it. They don’t enjoy any such unanimity on the subject of this essay, however, for the social phenomenon I mean to discuss is inequality, an old word for the dominant social fact of our times.

Inequality: the very word invites polemic. Tocqueville found, if anything, too much equality of condition in the early Republic. In the post—Civil War era, to be sure, inequality had its innings: our school textbooks concede as much. But within fifty to a hundred pages a deus exmachina known as the New Deal comes along, just in time to humanize the sweatshop capitalism of the high industrial era. Depending on their level of sophistication, the textbooks leave us with a picture of America achieving greater and greater equality in incomes and life chances since the Second World War. First workingmen, through those still controversial institutions labor unions, achieved a large measure of the promise of American life. They were soon joined by blacks and women. Yes, black poverty remains a grim problem. Yes, women still don’t earn as much as men for performing the same jobs. But on balance, in that mental picture of ours we are closer today to Tocqueville’s America than to Andrew Carnegie’s. Asked if his age was a handicap, twenty-six-year-old William Pitt, the great British Prime Minister, said that if it was, it was one he was remedying every day. That, I think, expresses our notion of inequality: it’s a fault we have been remedying every day.

That notion is wrong. Not just the chasm between the rich (the top five percent, defined by the Congressional Budget Office in 1986 as those families making more than $124,651 a year before taxes) and the poor (in 1986 the Census Bureau considered poor any four-person family making $11,203 or less) but the gap between the rich and the great American middle class has grown wider over the past decade. From 1977 to 1988 the majority of the population has experienced a stagnating income or a net loss in after-tax income, according to an October, 1987, report by the Congressional Budget Office. Meanwhile, the top twentieth of the population has seen average family income grow by $33,895 and the top hundredth (those now earning more than $303,900) by $129,402. The important debate over whether the middle class is expanding or contracting (see Robert Kuttner, “The Declining Middle, July, 1983, Atlantic, and James Fallows, “America’s Changing Economic Landscape,” March, 1985, Atlantic) obscures the meaning of those sobering statistics: economic and political power are flowing from the middle class to the affluent.

That this growing inequality has scarcely surfaced as an issue in the presidential campaign (though both Jesse Jackson and Richard Gephardt have tried to speak to it) is not surprising when we consider the nature of inequality. Poverty, Michael Harrington wrote twenty-five years ago in The Other America, is “invisible.’' It is a tribute to the impact that Harrington’s book had on public discussion and policy alike that poverty has since become, at least episodically, visible. The new inequality, however, is intrinsically invisible. People may sense that they are losing power; many know that they are losing money. But the extent of their loss becomes apparent only in statistical comparisons. The three fifths of the population experiencing little or no gain in after-tax income is not angry at the top twentieth. Those on the losing end aren’t demanding remedies, because they aren’t aware that there is a collective problem. Thus, silently, with no public protest, inequality gets younger every day.

The cold language of statistics is about numbers, not people. But keep the people in mind. T heir troubles are not the stuff of TV documentaries. I nequality won’t make today’s headlines or lead to tomorrow’s riots. Its manifestations are subtle: marginally frustrated hopes, a mocking disparity between the good life available to the tew and the life that the many settle for—resignation, guilt, social hopelessness.

The Electioneering Elite

TWO CLOSELY LINKED POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS OF the past twenty years lie behind the new inequality. The first is the collapse of broad-based political parties, particularly of the Democratic Party, which has left those in the bottom half of the income distribution, where families make less than $30,000 a year, with a diminished voice in the political process. This loss of political voice, in turn, has caused their economic interests to be less and less forcefully represented.

The second development is the growing dominance over politics of a new fund-raising, polling, consulting, and electioneering elite. Wardand precinct-based organizations, whose most important function was to get out the vote in workingand lower-middle-class communities, have been replaced by technology-based campaigns dependent on television and on vast sums of money; this development has coincided with, if not encouraged, a steady decline in voter turnout, most acute among those earning less than the median wage.

The new electioneering elite is made up of approximately thirty Republican and Democratic consultants and pollsters, almost all based in Washington, who are the principal strategists in almost every presidential campaign and competitive Senate race in America; they also play significant roles in gubernatorial, House, land local referendum contests. House and Senate candidates, in addition, have become dependent on political-action committees (PACs), vehicles for the transfer of money from organized interest groups to elected officeholders. In the decade 1974-1984 PACs went from supplying 17 percent of the total cost of House campaigns to supplying 36 percent, while individual contributions fell from 73 percent to 47 percent (the remainder of the money has come from the national party structures, loans, and other sources).

This shift has magnified the influence of the lobbyists who organize Washington fund-raisers for House and Senate incumbents. The Washington public-affairs and lobbying firm of Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly and an interrelated political-consulting firm sharing many of its partners provide perhaps the best example of the range of political and special interests a single group can represent. Over the past two years one partner, Charles Black, has managed the presidential campaign of Representative Jack Kemp, and another, Peter Kelly, has been a principal fund-raiser for the campaign of Senator Albert Gore. Lee Atwater, on leave from the consulting firm, has managed the campaign of Vice President George Bush. Over the same period the lobbying firm’s clients have included the Dominican Republic, the anti-Communist insurgency in Angola run by Jonas Savimbi, Salomon Brothers, the government of Barbados, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and, briefly, the Marcos government in the Philippines. In addition, the consulting firm has served as the principal political consultant to the Senate and gubernatorial campaigns of Phil Gramm, of Texas; Jesse Helms, of North Carolina; Paula Hawkins, of Florida; and Carroll Campbell, of South Carolina.

In 1986 nearly 11,000 people were employed as registered Washington lobbyists, with 3,750 of these serving as officers of 1,900 trade and professional organizations, including labor unions, another 1,500 employed by individual corporations, and about 2,500 representing organizations ranging from the National Right to Life Association to the Sierra Club. In addition, the six major national political-party committees, three Republican and three Democratic, headquartered in Washington, now employ roughly 1,200 people. And the creation and expansion of such ideological think tanks as the Heritage Foundation, the Center for National Policy, the Urban Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Hoover Institution have established whole networks of influential public-policy entrepreneurs specializing in media relations and in targeted position papers. The decline of organized labor dovetailed with a continuing shift from traditional manufacturing, mining, and construction jobs to jobs in the technology and service industries. According to the 1987 Economic Report of the President, from 1970 to 1986 the number of jobs in goodsproducing industries, which lend themselves to unionization, grew only from 23.6 million to 24.9 million, while employment in the service industries, which are much more resistant to unionization, went from 47.3 million to 75.2 million.

Staffers acquiring expertise and influence on Capitol Hill, in the executive branch, and throughout the regulatory apparatus routinely travel to the private sector—and back again—through the so-called revolving door. In effect, an entire class of public and private specialists in government policy and political strategy has been created—a process replicated in miniature at the state level. This new class is not undilutedly conservative; it has liberal members and it partly serves liberal interests. But it is deeply anti-populist. That is the major difference between it and the more responsive elite it replaced—the party bosses and labor leaders of a generation ago.

The Decline of the Democratic Party

THE RISE TO AUTHORITY OF NEW ELITES THAT ARE empowered to make decisions without being accountable to the economic interests of voters is part of a much larger shift in the balance of political power involving changes in voting patterns, the decline of organized labor, a restructuring of the job marketplace, and the transformation of the system of political competition. This power shift, in turn, has produced a policy realignment most apparent in the alteration of the after-tax distribution of income, which is detailed in the table below.


Income group by deciles 1977 average income 1988 average income % change Dollar + or -
First $3,528 $3,157 -10.5% -$371
Second $7,084 $6,990 -1.3% — $94
Third $10,740 $10,614 -1.2% -$126
Fourth $14,323 $14,266 -0.4% — $57
Fifth $18,043 $18,076 + 0.2% + $33
Sixth $22,009 $22,259 + 1.1% + $250
Seventh $26,240 $27,038 + 3.0% + $798
Eighth $31,568 $33,282 + 5.4% + $1,714
Ninth $39,236 $42,323 + 7.9% + $3,087
Tenth $70,459 $89,783 + 27.4% + $19,324
'Fop 5% $90,756 $124,651 + 37.3% + $33,895
Top 1% $174,498 $303,900 + 74.2% + $129,402
All groups $24,184 $26,494 + 9.6% + $2,310

Source: Congressional Budget Office

What this table points to is a reversal of the progressive redistribution of income that has underlain America’s tax and spending policies since the Administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. A study released by the Congressional Budget Office this past February shows that from 1970 to 1986 there was an overall increase in median family income. From 1977 on, however, most of the gain was concentrated in the top quintile, and inequality grew sharply. Moreover, almost all the recent gains in family income have resulted from the entry of wives as second earners into the work force, not from substantial raises for established workers.

In the competition between the defense and social-welfare sectors a roughly parallel shift in the balance of power can be seen over the years 1980-1987. According to the historical tables of the 1987 budget of the United States, the share of the federal budget going to national defense has grown from 22.7 percent in 1980 to 28.4 percent in 1987. At the same time, the share of federal dollars going to education, training, employment, social services, health, income security, and housing has dropped from 25.5 percent in 1980 to 18.3 percent in 1987.

These priorities reflect the rising strength of the Republican Party. During the past ten years the Republican Party has gained the allegiance of many voters, achieving near parity by this year; what was a twenty-three-point Democratic advantage in terms of self-identification has shrunk to a four-point edge.

In tracing the erosion of the power of the poor and the working class, and of the Democratic Party, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the labor movement’s collapse. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tell the story. In 1970 the number of labor-union members stopped growing. Unions represented 21.4 million workers that year, or 30 percent of the non-agricultural work force. Over the next decade the number of workers represented by unions dropped, to 20.1 million employees. At the same time, however, the total work force grew, so that the percentage of workers who were represented by unions fell to 23 percent by 1980. With the election of Ronald Reagan, however, the decline of organized labor began in earnest, a process encouraged by Reagan’s firing of 11,500 striking air-traffic controllers and by his appointment of a phalanx of pro-management officials to the National Labor Relations Board and to the Department of Labor. From 1980 to 1987 not only did the share of the work force represented by unions drop from 23 percent to 17 percent but the number of workers in unions began to fall precipitously for the first time in fifty years, from 20.1 million to 16.9 million. In the first half of the 1980s almost all the plummet in union membership was among whites employed in private industry.

The difficulties of organized labor were compounded in the early 1970s, when many major corporations unexpectedly decided to abandon a tacit detente between labor and management in which the companies kept labor peace through agreements that amounted to profit-sharing by means of automatic cost-of-living pay hikes. Growing competition from lower-wage foreign producers (in 1968 car imports exceeded exports for the first time in the nation’s history—an unmistakable signal that domestic producers in general faced serious foreign competition) caused major American companies to drop the fundamentally cordial relations that had, for the most part, characterized postwar union negotiations. The leaders of organized labor were caught unprepared when these companies adopted an adversarial approach regarding both pay and fringe benefits. The companies were willing to break union shops and to relocate facilities in low-wage countries overseas or in nonunion communities in the South and the Southwest.

Organized labor’s troubles were particularly damaging to the Democratic Party, because unions are one of its few remaining institutional links with working-class voters. The simultaneous weakening of political parties has resulted in the end of the clubhouse tie between the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the blue-collar voters of rowand tracthouse neighborhoods throughout the Northeast and the Midwest. In addition, it is among these white blue-collar workers that the racial conflicts within the Democratic Party have been the most divisive. Racial issues, which had already served to attenuate the link between the white South and the national Democratic Party, have led whites in a number of cities with black mayors to vote Republican, not only for President but also for local offices that were once unchallenged Democratic bastions. At the same time that these political-racial tensions were -being played out in major cities, urban voting strength was eroding: from 1952 to 1984 Detroit’s share of the Michigan vote fell from 29 to 10 percent, Chicago’s share of the Illinois total from 41 to 24 percent, and New Orleans’s share of the Louisiana total from 27 to 12 percent, according to the Elections Research Center, in Washington, D.C.

By the 1970s, owing significantly to these developments, a power vacuum existed within the Democratic Party, which allowed the most articulate and procedurally sophisticated wing—relatively affluent, liberal reformers—to assume control of the party. This faction capitalized first on the public outcry against police violence at the 1968 Democratic presidential convention in Chicago, next on the political climate of the counterculture, and then on the Watergate scandals in the mid-1970s, to force the consideration of reforms on issues ranging from campaign finance to an expansion of the federal role in regulating the environment.

IN A MAJOR POLITICAL IRONY THE SUSTAINED ATTACKS of the Democratic reformers on traditional political organizations, and their demands for changes in the financing of campaigns, ultimately helped the Republican Party acquire power. The deterioration of the old-guard organizations, which were effectively taken out of the presidential nomination process by the reforms of the early 1970s, accelerated the shift toward a political system dominated by electioneering technology.

The increasing use of expensive technology, in turn, elevated fund-raising from an important factor in campaigns to the dominant factor. The need for ever larger amounts of money gave the Republican Party a decided advantage over the Democratic Party. Campaign contributors—even those of so-called small donations ($200 or less)—are overwhelmingly concentrated among the upper middle class and the rich, just the groups in which Republican allegiance is strongest. The key institutions in the development of campaign technology, and in making this technology available to candidates, are the six national party committees—the Democratic and Republican National, Senatorial, and Congressional Campaign Committees. It is at this level that the disparity between the parties is most apparent: in the past five election cycles the proceeds of Republican Party fund-raising grew from $84.5 million, in 1977—1978, to $252.4 million, in 1985— 1986, while Democratic Party proceeds grew from $26.4 million to $61.8 million.

Campaign-finance legislation enacted in 1974 by a Democratic Congress stemmed the flow of cash to a Democratic Party that, paradoxically, was dependent on large special-interest contributions, in excess of the new legal limits. The Republican Party kept its wits, though, and by 1984 its National Committee had, with the help of computers, built a donor base of 1.6 million people. In effect, the combination of the new rules about campaign contributions (which limited individual contributions to candidates to $1,000 and contributions to parties to $20,000) and the decline in the role of traditional neighborhood-based clubs and organizations reduced the participation of workingand lower-middle-class voters in the political process, while encouraging the direct-mail mobilization of the affluent.

RELATIVELY COMFORTABLE IN THEIR OWN LIVES, the Democratic reformers failed to recognize the growing pressure that marginal tax rates were putting on the incomes of workingand lower-middle-class voters. The progressive rate system of the federal income tax had remained effectively unchanged from the early 1950s through the 1970s, so that the series of sharply rising marginal tax rates that had originally been designed to affect only the upper middle class and the rich began to pinch regular Democratic voters whose wages had been forced up by inflation, and Democratic households whose incomes had risen only as the wives had gone out to work. By neglecting to adjust the marginal rate system for inflation while repeatedly raising the highly regressive Social Security payroll tax, Democrats effectively encouraged the tax revolt of the 1970s, which provided a major source of support to the conservative movement and to the Republican Party.

The effects of the ever larger tax bite on traditionally Democratic voting blocks were aggravated by the sudden halt in 1973 of what had been a steady rise in median family income since the end of the Second World War. According to data from the 1987 Economic Report ot the President and from the Bureau of the Census, family income in 1981 dollars rose from $12,341 in 1947 to $17,259 in 1960 to $23,111 in 1970, and topped out at $24,663 in 1973—a level that was not exceeded at least through 1986. Of all the blows to the Democratic coalition in the 1960s and 1970s, the stagnation of family income had the potential to inflict the most severe long-range damage. It undermined the party’s basic claim that the system of government established in the years following the New Deal promised continued growth and a better life for each new generation. It lent credibility in the public mind to claims that the untrammeled accumulation ot private wealth is a necessary precondition of economic growth; that regulations to protect consumers and workers—indeed, most forms of government regulation of the economy and the environment—endanger the power of the free-enterprise engines of progress; and that if efficiency is not fostered, even at the price of inequity, the last wall be dragged down with the first.

The desire for tax cuts provided an essential common ground for the right-of-center coalition that formed the core of the Reagan revolution. The combination ot corporate and individual tax cuts embodied in the 1981 tax bill served to unify a divided business community, to strengthen the commitment of the affluent to the Republican Party, and to attract white workingand lower-middle-class Democrats who had seen their paychecks eaten away by the higher marginal rates that inflation had made them subject to.

THE REAGAN REVOLUTION WOULD HAVE BEEN A Political failure if it had not gained extensive support from voters outside the upper middle class. Notwithstanding the deep inroads made in previously Democratic working-class communities in northern urban areas, perhaps the single most important source of new support for the Republican Party has been the religious right.

From 1976 to 1984 voters identifying themselves as born-again Christians, who supported Jimmy Carter in 1976, radically shifted their voting in presidential elections, in effect presenting the Republican Party with eight million new votes,

Frederick T. Steeper, of Market Opinion Research, and John Petrocik, of UCLA, have found that since 1976 a sharp partisan cleavage has emerged in the electorate between those who attend church regularly and those who never go to church. This represents a major change. From 1952 to 1960 there was no statistical difference in the party allegiances of churchgoers and non-churchgoers. By the elections of 1972 and 1976 a modest difference had begun to appear, with non-churchgoers seven percentage points more likely than regular churchgoers to be Democrats. By 1986 the spread had grown to a striking 35-point difference, with regular churchgoers identifying themselves as Republicans by a 22-point margin and non-churchgoers identifying themselves as Democrats by a 13-point margin. These findings dovetail with studies showing that the members of such establishment, non-evangelical denominations as the Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians supported the election of Ronald Reagan significantly more strongly than did the electorate at large.

The Glass Skew in Voting

WHILE THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS GAINED A STRUCtural base in the religious community, picking up a substantial number of lower-income votes, the growing political strength of the affluent in general is reflected in voter-turnout patterns. Since the 1950s turnout has fallen much more rapidly among those in the bottom third of the income distribution than among those in the top third. In the early 1960s the turnout among those in the bottom third was roughly 25 percent below that among the top third; in recent elections the disparity has grown to 40 points.

The partisan consequences of these shifts are enormous. The voting groups that are most Democratic are those who are disappearing from the polling place, while the increasingly Republican well-to-do have continued to vote at relatively high levels. The Republican Party, according to a March, 1987, national poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, receives 44 percent of its support from the high-turnout group of voters making more than $30,000 a year and 28 percent from the low-turnout group making less than $20,000. In contrast, the Democratic Party receives only 31 percent of its support from voters making over $30,000, and 42 percent of its support from those making less than $20,000. During the past decade voting has become significantly skewed in favor of the affluent.

Another way to look at the shift in voting patterns is in terms of low-and high-status jobs. In the presidential election year of 1964, according to census data analyzed by Walter Dean Burnham, of MIT, the turnout among members of professions associated with the middle and upper middle classes was 83 percent, while it was 66 percent among those in manual jobs, including skilled crafts—a difference of 17 points. By 1980 the spread between the two had growm to 25 points: 73 percent to 48 percent.

Martin P. Wattenberg, of the University of California at Irvine, has provided some illuminating data on a broad trend: Through the 1950s and 1960s and into the early 1970s the sharp class divisions that had characterized the Depression-era New Deal coalition structure gave way to diffuse voting patterns in which relatively little correlation between income and allegiance to the Democratic or the Republican Party could be found. By 1980 and 1982, with the election of Reagan and the enactment of the budget and tax bills of 1981, the correlation between income and party allegiance began to re-emerge dramatically.

In other words, the Reagan years sharply polarized the electorate along income lines. Whereas in 1956 income made almost no difference in the partisan loyalties of 90 percent of the population, by 1984 income had become one of the clearest indicators of party allegiance. In 1956 the very poor were five percentage points more likely to be Democratic than the upper middle class, and 40 points more likely than the affluent top ten percent of the income distribution. By 1984, however, the spread between the poor and the upper middle class reached 36 points, and between the poor and the affluent 69 points.

The polarization of the electorate by income reflects changes in voter participation by race. The civil-rights movement, and civil-rights legislation enacted in the 1960s, enfranchised millions of blacks who had been barred from voting in previous elections. During the twenty-four years from 1960 to 1984, according to the Voter Education Project, in Atlanta, roughly 4.2 million blacks from the southern states entered the electorate. During roughly the same period, blacks’ allegiance to the Democratic Party grew from being strong to being overwhelming: in 1956 it held their loyalty by a 34 percent edge, in 1984 by a 72 percent edge. This infusion of black Democratic support sharply increased the low-income tilt of the party: in 1984 the median family income for whites was $28,674, while that for blacks was $15,982.

The New Political Underclass

OVER THE THIRTY-YEAR PERIOD 1949 TO 1979, According to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the number of manufacturing jobs grew by an average of three million a decade. From 1979 to 1986, however, the number of manufacturing jobs dropped from 26.5 million to 24.9 million—a loss of 1.6 million jobs. Though they were counted as employed in the government statistics, 28.9 percent of the 59.6 million workers getting hourly wages in 1987 (as opposed to weekly salaries) received less than $5.00 an hour. For a full-time worker getting paid all fifty-two weeks of the year in 1986, it took an hourly wage of at least $5.39 to exceed the $11,203 poverty level for a family of four.

These employment shifts have been particularly damaging to blacks and Hispanics. From 1970 to 1984 major northern cities experienced a tremendous decline in the number of jobs requiring little education—the kind of jobs that provide entry into the employment marketplace for the poor—and a sharp increase in the number of jobs requiring at least some higher education. “Demographic and employment trends have produced a serious mismatch between the skills of inner-city blacks and the opportunities available to them . . . substantial job losses have occurred in the very industries in which urban minorities have the greatest access, and substantial employment gains have occurred in the higher-education-requisite industries that are beyond the reach of most minority workers,”writes William Julius Wilson, of the University of Chicago. Since 1970, according to research cited by Wilson, the number of jobs in nine cities which did not require a high school degree declined from 3,068,000 to 2,385,000 (a loss of 683,000 jobs), while the number requiring at least some higher education grew from 2,023,000 to 2,745,000 (an increase of 722,000 jobs).

Although blacks and Hispanics will, at least for the time being, disproportionately bear the burden of the shift in job requirements, the altered structure of the marketplace will work to the disadvantage of the poorly educated of all races and ethnic groups. In 1985, according to census data, there were 30.6 million whites over the age of twenty-five without a high school education. That’s five times the number of blacks without high school degrees (5.9 million) and seven times the number of Hispanics without them (4.4 million).

Job-market trends requiring higher levels of education will intensify through the rest of this century. The Department of Labor estimates that 21.4 million jobs will be created between 1986 and the year 2000, and that most of them will be in service industries or government, with losses in traditional-goods-manufacturing industries unlikely to be fully offset by gains in the technology-manufacturing sector. The department foresees a significant increase in the proportion of jobs requiring at least one year of college education, no change in the proportion of jobs requiring a high school degree, and a sharp decline in the percentage of jobs not requiring a high school education.

These trends in the job market over the next ten years are likely to exacerbate the regressive distribution of income that has taken place over the past decade. Under American democracy those who are unemployed or marginally employed are weakest politically. The deliquescence of traditional political organizations and unions has made significantly more difficult the political mobilization of the working poor, the working class, and the legions of white-collar workers making from $10,000 to $25,000 a year—a universe the Bureau of the Census has measured as containing roughly 24.6 million white households, 3.4 million black households, and 2 million Hispanic households. Providing a political voice for those poorly educated workers within this group who have been dispersed from manufacturing employment into cycles of marginal work becomes even more difficult.

While most of those who have lost manufacturing jobs have found full-time employment, such workers have in the main seen wages fall and fringe benefits decline or disappear. Given the declining voter turnout associated with dropping income, these workers have fallen into what amounts to a new political underclass.

WHILE A HOST OF POLICY INITIATIVES COULD HE undertaken to redress income inequality—not only redistributional tax policies and a minimum wage keeping pace with the rising cost of living but also a range of expanded and improved public services, from broader medical coverage to publicly financed day care, housing and mortgage subsidies, worker retraining, college-tuition aid, and reform of Social Security taxes and benefits—such initiatives are not likely to come about unless those in the bottom half of the income distribution demand them at the polls. The single most effective mechanism available in this country to advance broad economic interests is the voting booth, particularly for those who lack wealth, power, and access to the people making political decisions. But the declining role of political parties in mobilizing large segments of the electorate, combined with the deterioration of the strength of organized labor, has created an elective environment in which, I believe, it will be difficult to restore that critical mass of public pressure necessary for effective, vigorous public policies to substantially lessen inequality. Yet if the trends we have been discussing continue over the next twenty years, the social consequences could be severe. Egalitarianism has been the democratic answer to Marxism. Greater equality of incomes and life chances, in other words, is not just something that is in the interest of the few. It is in the national interest. For how much of America’s remarkable social harmony has rested on the historical movement away from inequality which has now been reversed?