- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2000

News Analysis

When Al Gore ran for vice president in 1992, he denounced President Bush for presiding over an economy in which "the rich get richer" and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans controlled more riches than the poorest 90 percent.

Although Mr. Gore vowed to reverse that trend, it has only intensified during his seven years in office, with a new class of super-rich gobbling up an increasingly disproportionate share of America's wealth than they enjoyed during the Bush or even Reagan eras. The current proliferation of billionaires makes the "Decade of Greed" as liberals call the 1980s seem tame.

"The so-called 'Decade of Greed' really pales in comparison to the wealth created in the '90s," said Lawrence Kudlow, chief economist for CNBC.com and Shroeder & Co. Inc. "All these cyberspace billionaires and software billionaires and computer billionaires have created an entirely new segment of American life in the last half-dozen years."

Inequality in the distribution of income to American households has increased 5 percent since President Bush left office, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By comparison, inequality nudged up less than a quarter of 1 percent during Mr. Bush's four years in the White House.

Furthermore, the richest fifth of American households is now poised to snare fully half the country's income for the first time in history, leaving an ever-shrinking share currently 3.6 percent for the poorest fifth, census figures show.

These are precisely the kinds of economic disparities that Mr. Gore promised to abolish when he first ran for vice president.

"This year, for the first time since the Great Depression, the top 1 percent controls more wealth than the bottom 90 percent," Mr. Gore thundered during a campaign stop with Bill Clinton in Cleveland in August 1992. "The other side responds to that privileged few, and when they need something, they get it done. But when the bottom 90 percent need something, they turn their backs."

Actually, it wasn't until the Clinton-Gore administration got under way that the richest 1 percent of America surpassed the poorest 90 percent in net worth, according to the Survey of Consumer Finances.

In 1992, when Mr. Gore made his claim, the richest 1 percent held 30.1 percent of the nation's wealth, compared to 33 percent controlled by the poorest 90 percent, the survey said. The balance had shifted by 1995 and became more pronounced by 1998, when the richest 1 percent held 34 percent of the wealth, compared to 31.3 percent held by the poorest 90 percent.

The day after Mr. Gore's speech in Cleveland, he and Mr. Clinton traveled to Pennsylvania, where the vice presidential hopeful savaged "the wealthy, powerful, privileged, top 1 percent that make up the backbone of the support of the Bush and [Dan] Quayle administration. And we're going to take our government and our country back from that crowd. We're not going to stand for it anymore."

Yet aside from the antitrust suit against Microsoft which trimmed billions from CEO Bill Gates' net worth and sent shock waves through the Nasdaq Stock Market the Clinton-Gore administration has presided over an economic environment in which the ultra-rich have flourished as never before.

Last year, there were 268 billionaires on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans more than triple the 73 billionaires who topped the list in 1992. For the first time ever, the total net worth of the 400 richest Americans has surpassed $1 trillion greater than the gross domestic product of China.

Although Mr. Gore insisted right up until the day he took office in late January 1993 that America was in the throes of "the worst economy since the Depression," the White House now acknowledges the current economic expansion began in April 1991 or a little more than midway through the Bush administration. Mr. Gore abandoned his class-warfare rhetoric after settling into his role as vice president.

Although Mr. Gore has been unable to stop the rich from getting richer, he has managed to preside over an economy in which the poor are no longer getting poorer. The poverty rate dropped to 12.7 percent in 1998, after having risen from 13 to 14.8 percent during the Bush administration.

Still, in every year of the Clinton-Gore era, the poor have had to settle for a proportionately smaller share of America's bounty than they enjoyed during each year of the Bush administration. The poorest fifth of American households now garner just 3.6 percent of the wealth, compared with 3.8 percent when Mr. Bush left office.

Conversely, the richest fifth of households commanded 49.2 percent of the wealth in 1998, compared to 46.9 percent during Mr. Bush's final year in office. If the trend continues, this richest 20 percent of Americans will monopolize a majority of the nation's aggregate income this year.

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