For months on end we were subjected to the rituals of irrelevance: to posturing as patriotism, incoherence as eloquence, innuendo as nuance, character assassination as candor, sound-bites as substance, carefully memorized one-liners as expressions of spontaneity, self-righteousness as self-deprecation. Misstatement, outright fabrication, deliberate falsehood, and conscious distortion were spewed out by spin-masters, merchants of manipulation, propagandists, pollsters, shysters of the slick and technicians of the fast fix, all in the name of the democratic process. Nor were the two presidential candidates, Michael Dukakis and George Bush, themselves immune to the malaise, proving themselves extraordinarily adept time and again at not addressing any of the excruciatingly difficult choices a new administration will have to make.

But the realities the new president will face cannot be indefinitely obscured. The prosperity we enjoy, the unparalleled splurge in consumption during the 1980s, has been fueled by borrowing against the future. Although this observation is not especially new - and repetition has robbed it of urgency — what we have yet to adequately grasp, that is grasp to the point where the knowledge impels action, is the enormous cost of our excesses. The inescapable reality that that cost must now be met limits severely the choices open to us and has unsettling implications for the kind of society we may bequeath our children. We called the tune, danced with abandon to its seductive rhythms; now we must pay the piper.

The New England Journal of Public Policy frequently addresses these questions of increasing inequality in the face of growing prosperity, entrenched poverty in the face of economic growth. Rising tides, it is quite clear, do not lift all boats; many capsize and some go under. In this issue, we continue our focus on these questions.



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