The overlords are getting nervous

Are poll results hinting at the end of the Reagan Revolution?

Published October 25, 2006 3:43PM (EDT)

When Wall Street Journal business columnists start worrying about the unequal distribution of wealth in the United States, you really begin to believe that a tectonic shift in the political landscape is underway.

Alan Murray, the assistant managing editor of the Journal, starts out wondering much the same thing as did the New York Times' Eduardo Porter earlier this week: Why do polls of voters show discontent with Bush's handling of the economy? Unemployment is low, inflation is not too bad, the stock market is surging, and oil prices have come down from their highs. But unlike Porter, he gets to the point much faster.

Large numbers of Americans seem to have lost their belief in John F. Kennedy's famous aphorism that a rising tide lifts all boats. "They know the economy is white hot," says political analyst Charlie Cook, "but they also know they aren't in it....There's a feeling that some people are getting theirs, but we aren't getting ours."

There's a well-known litany of reasons for that. Median earnings have been growing at a disturbingly slow pace, even as profits and high-end pay have soared. Health-care costs are not only increasing, they increasingly are being paid by consumers, not by employers or the government. Pensions are disappearing, as is job security -- and any sense of long-term loyalty from employers....

Meanwhile, a thin slice of America is enjoying unprecedented prosperity. CEO pay is one of the most visible manifestations, rising in the past decade at triple the rate of the median worker's pay.

On behalf of Wall Street Journal readers everywhere, Murray is worried -- not because of the rising inequality, per se, but because of what it could mean for business. "The danger for business is that the broad social support for pro-business and pro-market policies that has characterized American politics for a quarter century or more could be breaking down."

This could lead, warns Murray, to the rise of a Democratic candidate running for president in 2008 on an "anti-trade, anti-globalization, anti-immigration platform." Call it the Three Horsemen of the New World Order Apocalypse campaign.

But despite the handwringing, Murray utters nary a word as to how the "business" community might avoid the upcoming backlash. C'mon, Alan, it's not so hard. A little wealth redistribution now, and maybe the hangover from a quarter-century of partying at the expense of the rest of us won't be so bad.

UPDATE: A reader asks for a link to the Wall Street Journal article referenced above. Here you go.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization How The World Works U.s. Economy