One of the most pertinent - and hilarious - moments in the new Warren Beatty film Bulworth comes when Senator Jay Bulworth, played by Beatty, is on the campaign trail at an all-black church in the Los Angeles ghetto. Skipping his stump speech to take questions, the senator is confronted by an angry African-American woman over his unfulfilled promises to help with a particular issue of importance to poverty-line blacks. To consternation in the audience, Bulworth explains that he has no reason to help a poor black woman like the questioner, because she didn't contribute to his campaign. While his aides cringe in disbelief, he adds that he does more for corporate interests because they give him hefty donations for his help in making sure contentious pieces of legislation never make it to the Senate floor for debate. If these words are truly liberating for political cynics, it is only because they are equally liberating for the character Beatty has created. Because Senator Bulworth is suicidal and has taken out a contract on his own life, he decides he has nothing to lose and is finally free to tell the truth about his place in Washington's jaded theatre of the absurd. Bulworth has been described, by fans and critics alike, as the most left-wing movie to emerge from mainstream Hollywood since, well, Beatty's Reds. That does the film an injustice, not least because it is likely to turn many away from what is a hugely entertaining comedy. What the movie is, no more and no less, is socially honest. At a time when the media screams at Americans that they have never had it so good, Bulworth asks some uncomfortable questions - especially for the Clintonite Democrats at the helm of the so-called economic miracle. Why so many of Beatty's critics view the movie's progressive diatribe about the disenfranchised underclasses as heresy is because it comes at a time when statistics alone would appear to present it as wildly out of synch with these feel-good times. Unemployment, at under four per cent, is at its lowest for three decades; Wall Street is on the up and up; GDP growth continues unabated without inciting the evil of inflation; and the federal budget will this year go into the black for the first time since 1969 and stay in surplus for another 10 years. In short, happy days are here to stay: bonuses blossom on Wall Street, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is the deity of the age, and pundits are predicting that not only did the 20th century belong to the United States, but the 21st is there for the taking too. While there is no doubt a healthy and secure America is indeed in the best interests of the world during the next decades, there are hefty question marks hanging over the country's euphoria that few, apart from Beatty, are bothering to spotlight. As the champagne corks pop, one has to wonder why so many middle-class Americans find it hard to make it from pay cheque to pay cheque; why they are so desperate to get their refund cheques from the tax man; why both husband and wife are forced to work to make ends meet, and cannot get access to cheap child-minding; why they have to save for years and go without routine pleasures purely to send their children to college; or why - given that the jobless rate is so low - middle-aged people made redundant find it almost impossible to find a similar job at the same rate. Here we are merely not talking about the plight of the urban poor but about regular, middle-class citizens, who are increasingly finding that the boom economy has meant anything but a boom in personal wealth. While the 1980s was dubbed the Reagan era of greed, there is little evidence the 1990s has seen any attempt at a Clintonite redressment. Quite the opposite. Corporate profits have boomed and top executives have seen their wallets swell on the back of stock options, to the extent that while the income of those earning more than US$1 million (HK$7.735 million) more than doubled between 1990 and 1995, average family incomes actually declined. During roughly the same period, the percentage of Americans below the poverty line grew around one per cent to 13.7 per cent. Looking at a wider trend, the salaries of the bottom 50 per cent of workers have fallen in real terms over the past 20 years; and for the bottom 20 per cent, that decline comes out at a whopping 12 per cent. Put simply, America has become the most unequal society in the democratic West. According to the Institute for International Economics, during the past two decades the ratio between the wages of the top 10 per cent of workers and the lower 10 per cent has risen in the past two decades from 360 per cent to around 525 per cent. So when Senator Bulworth states that many white people have more in common with blacks than they do with rich whites, he is clearly on to something. So what, many will reply; the beauty of America is that the opportunities are there for those who take them, and hard work and talent will never be penalised by the kind of over-regulation and social welfare economies typical of the stagnating European nations. That cannot be argued with, especially since this system has caused the US to maintain the productivity and inventiveness which allows it to keep basking in the sun. Moreover, punishing taxes and some form of Marxist redistribution of wealth are clearly not what America needs to resolve its social iniquities. (Although one cannot help but ask whether Michael Eisner really needs a yearly bonus bigger than an average street of families will earn in a lifetime). But neither can the problems be brushed under the carpet - even if, according to Pepperdine Institute fellow Joel Kotkin, there is currently a 'yuppie consensus' that there is nothing at all to worry about. 'The indifference of the yuppie consensus to such potentially devastating realities [of social inequality] triggers comparison with the 'let-them-eat-cake' self-absorption of the 1920s,' Mr Kotkin wrote in the Washington Post. Even if America's future looks rosy, he adds 'it is profoundly self-delusional to claim the future by ignoring the present'. Which brings us back to Bulworth - a film which by no means ignores the present. Through the laughter, its message seems to be that the problems of class and race are not just economic, but political. In making its messenger a senator who has decided to start telling the truth, the film reveals the villain to be a system which perpetuates political inertia by allowing the politicians to be in thrall to the whims of their corporate donors. Washington could at least pay lip service to this important message by making a genuine effort to reform the morass of campaign finance. In the meantime, let us hope that the champagne corks keep popping on Wall Street, because when the bubbly goes flat the ones eating the cake will of course not be those residing in the lofts of SoHo, but across the river in the Bronx.