It is a natural consequence of two trends: technology and population growth. Barack Obama cannot reverse these trends, any more than King Canute could stop the tide.
Consider the first trend, technology. I use it as shorthand for a number of things: standardization, innovation, and better communications. Henry Ford became immensely wealthy because of a new innovation, the automobile, which he standardized through the assembly line, and was able to popularize through mass communications media. Ford did not set out to create income inequality between himself and others. Yet, income inequality was the inevitable consequence of technology.
Next consider population growth. Bill Gates would be a billionaire, no matter what. But, thirty years ago, when Microsoft was in its early days, the world’s population was just about 4 billion. Today, it’s over 7 billion. Even if all other factors had stayed the same, the addressable market for Gates’ products has increased by 75% over the years, thus allowing him to be 75% wealthier today than he could have been thirty years ago.
Now consider someone on the opposite side of these trends, a retail worker in a boutique store. This worker helps one customer at a time. Population trends have no impact on her ability to earn, since she helps one person at a time. Meanwhile, technology (standardization, innovation, and better communications) works against her, by giving Walmart and Amazon the ability to put her out of business. No wonder her real income hasn’t kept pace with Bill Gates’!
I don’t see these trends ending anytime soon. So income inequality will increase. But a rising tide lifts all boats. The typical “poor” American, according to census data, has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a DVD player, and a color TV. It should go without saying – but usually doesn’t – that in, say, 1960, someone who had a color TV, a refrigerator, air conditioning and a car would not be considered poor.