Issue of Distribution of Income, Opportunities Re-Emerges

By Silk, Leonard | THE JOURNAL RECORD, July 23, 1988 | Go to article overview

Issue of Distribution of Income, Opportunities Re-Emerges


Silk, Leonard, THE JOURNAL RECORD


NEW YORK - What is the main economic issue on which the Democrats will fight the 1988 presidential campaign?

In Atlanta this week, Jesse Jackson sought to make that issue the unequal distribution of income and opportunities in the United States.

He made his own life the symbol of the issue - and of hope that others could follow his example in making it. ``I was born in the slum,'' he said. ``But the slum was not born in me. And it wasn't born in you. You can make it.''

But, despite Jackson's electrifying appeal to the convention, the supporters of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis easily prevailed in rejecting income redistribution as the heart of their campaign for the White House.

In the voting on the platform, the Dukakis forces defeated Jackson's call for higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations by 2,499 to 1,091. Dukakis has been trying to get rid of the ``big-taxer, big-spender'' label the Republicans have been trying to pin on him.

As one Dukakis supporter put it: ``If Jackson had succeeded, the Democrats would be in deep trouble. Even as it is, the big question is the extent to which the Republicans can succeed in creating the image that Bush is running against Jackson.''

What, then, is Dukakis's big economic issue? This is tough in a year in which the economy is moving up briskly and unemployment is down to 5.2 percent, its lowest rate in 14 years, with the jobless rate among married men down to 3.1 percent and among married women down to 3.7 percent.

The Democrats can say, ``All this won't last - the hot performance of the economy is built on big budget deficits and foreign debt.'' But in the past, when the voters have been looking at a strongly expanding economy, they have usually gone with the party in power.

A surge of inflation could change that. Consumer and producer prices have been moving up, as have interest rates - enough to disturb the stock and bond markets. Dukakis's own economic advisers, though sensitive to the upward creep of inflation, are not eager to urge him to prod the Federal Reserve to a much more restrictive monetary policy.

They would much rather see a tighter fiscal policy and an easier monetary policy, bringing interest rates down for the sake of spurring greater investment and productivity growth, with gains in real living standards and an easing of the third-world debt problem.

But in their quest for stronger measures to shrink the budget deficit, they are frustrated by the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of doing that job without either deeper cuts in military spending, lower Social Security benefits or higher taxes - or some combination of all three. …

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