In 1916 the richest 1% got only a fifth of their income from paid work, whereas the figure in 2004 was over 60%.
According to the latest Gallup survey, fewer than four out of ten think it is in “excellent” or “good” shape, compared with almost seven out of ten when George Bush took office. Average after-tax income per person, Mr Bush often points out, has risen by more than 8% on his watch, once inflation is taken into account.
He is right, but his claim is misleading, since the median worker—the one in the middle of the income range—has done less well than the average, whose gains are pulled up by the big increases of those at the top.
The elites in the early years of the 20th century were living off the income generated by their accumulated fortunes.
Today's rich, by and large, are earning their money.
The gap between rich and poor is bigger than in any other advanced country, but most people are unconcerned.
Whereas Europeans fret about the way the economic pie is divided, Americans want to join the rich, not soak them.It is not clear whether this sclerosis is increasing: the evidence is mixed.Many studies suggest that mobility between generations has stayed roughly the same in recent decades, and some suggest it is decreasing.Even so, ordinary Americans seem to believe that theirs is still a land of opportunity.The proportion who think you can start poor and end up rich has risen 20 percentage points since 1980.That helps explain why voters who grumble about the economy have nonetheless failed to respond to class politics.John Edwards, the Democrats' vice-presidential candidate in 2004, made little headway with his tale of “Two Americas”, one for the rich and one for the rest.Such sceptics will be sure to make much of any sign that the broad middle-class reaps scant benefit from the current productivity boom, setting back the course of European reform even further.The conventional tale is that the changes of the past few years are simply more steps along paths that began to diverge for rich and poor in the Reagan era.Privately, some policymakers admit that the recent trends have them worried, and not just because of the congressional elections in November.The statistics suggest that the economic boom may fade.