Balance Sheet

Assets

Democratic Capitalism. The bull market isn't just for fat cats. More than half of Americans own some type of stock or mutual fund. And for the first time in 30 years, Americans have more of their wealth in stocks than in real estate or any other investment. Federal Reserve data reported by The New York Times shows that 28 percent of household wealth is in the stock market, up from 12 percent in 1990.

Reel Recognition. "Lunatic fringe" ideas get a thumbs-up from Hollywood. Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life and the widely acclaimed Waco: The Rules of Engagement receive Oscar nominations for Best Documentary Feature.

Reorganization Men. White-collar jobs "destroyed" by corporate downsizing miraculously reappear. The Educational Testing Service says 37 percent of the new jobs created from 1989 to 1995 were for managers and professionals, compared with 20 percent from 1969 to 1979. ETS study co-author Steven Rose attributes the rise to global competition, which places a premium on people who can manage employees, market products, and satisfy customers.

Solid Ground. The Commerce Clause returns, this time in a wetlands case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturns a four-count criminal conviction of Maryland developer James J. Wilson. Wilson had received a 21-month prison sentence for altering 50 acres of residential private property six miles from any "navigable" waterway. The court demands a new trial, saying Clean Water Act regulations used against Wilson exceed the constitutional authority of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

Liabilities

Pay Scale. President Clinton supports yet another hike in the minimum wage, less than six months after its most recent increase. A booming economy and tight labor market may be able to absorb such higher costs. But when the next recession hits, watch those unemployment numbers soar.

Doctor Redundant. David Satcher becomes the new surgeon general of the United States. The job was vacant for three years. Assuming you noticed, did you think the revolutionary Republicans had abolished the office? No such luck--despite record-high life expectancy and plummeting mortality rates.

Debt Service. How not to help minority entrepreneurs: Stick them with bad loans. Al Gore orders the Small Business Administration to double its loan guarantees to African Americans by 2000. The SBA has already pledged to triple loan guarantees to Latinos over the same period. Since the SBA can only pledge money to people who can't get bank loans, this do-goodism will result in bankruptcies rather than success stories.

Butt Out. Cigar smoking can be hazardous to your health. And it's news to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC forces the five largest domestic cigar rollers to submit the same advertising and promotion information it gets from makers of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. The move may be a prelude to further regulation of cigars, including warning labels and advertising restrictions.

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