A Gilded Age sweeps America again – Democrat Article
In 1873, Mark Twain wrote The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. It was a critique of what he viewed as an era of American history characterized by materialism, greed, racism and political corruption. This period saw increased wealth stratification and the fall of many Americans into abject poverty. In the South, newly freed African Americans had their voting rights stripped away and were terrorized into submission. Meanwhile, the economy boomed. Wealthy titans built massive empires. They accrued wealth and political power while the people they employed could barely put food on the table. It was an era of suffering and unrest that was covered or ‘gilded’ by the wealth and gold of those at the top.
If this sounds familiar to you, then you’re not alone. Many of the same problems Mark Twain lamented almost 150 years ago plague our country today. The question now is will the United States let history repeat itself?
I would argue that today we have entered a new ‘Gilded Age’. Characterized by the same materialism and greed that led to the last one. Preoccupied with consumption, Americans have let history repeat itself with disastrous consequences. Wealth inequality has been increasing since 1980. While the economy is growing at a healthy pace, the share of those who have been reaping these rewards has been completely unequal. Wage growth has been concentrated in the upper-income brackets while the middle class has been steadily eroded. Those in the working class have fared even worse. Manufacturing jobs are outsourced to developing countries and there is increased competition from the highest immigration we’ve seen in over a century.
Like the late 19th century, America today has seen a massive influx of low skilled and low educated workers. Although in previous periods we were able to absorb these people into a country that was rapidly industrializing, it’s not the same today. The American economy, like all other developed economies, has changed. We no longer require vast amounts of people in textile factories or on the assembly line. While we still have manufacturing jobs, the quantity of those jobs has decreased.
However, the supply of available workers continues to accelerate. While it is true that immigration can help to grow the American economy, it is important that we ask where this economy is being grown. The people who benefit from this influx of cheap labor are not the one’s in the factories, but the executives who hire them. They profit by taking advantage of vulnerable employees, many of whom fear deportation if they speak out. Furthermore, those who originally worked these jobs are forced to accept lower pay because of the increased competition. We allow this to occur because we like paying less for our goods and care little for the lives of those who produce them for us.
In Congress, politicians appear more concerned with winning their elections than helping the constituents that elected them. While voter participation is on the rise, election races have become increasingly tighter. The ideological divisions between parties have increased substantially. This is reflected across the country, as counties and states continuously see elections often decided by a margin of less than 1%. Americans have become accustomed to the political theatre which dominates the airwaves. We are conditioned to expect gridlock as opposed to compromising. With billions of dollars funnelled into political campaigns, politics have become more about who can court the most benefactors rather than the most people. As the polarization of American politics carries on, this country will continue to see political strife that will only serve to hurt, not help, the American people.
What made the Gilded Age of the late 19th century so important was that it was believed to be a turning point in American history. Many people believed this country could do better after fighting a long and bloody war to end slavery and oppression. To the disappointment of Mark Twain and his contemporaries, what they found was that the country was too preoccupied with material gain and greed to address any of the real problems before them. Many of these same problems exist today. Wealth inequality, racism and political dysfunction are all issues that have been brought to the forefront of the American mindset.
As this country continues to grow in both wealth and power, we must be careful to not make the same mistakes. We need to pause and ask ourselves if the policies we make benefit all of us or just a certain portion of us. We can live in a prosperous country for all Americans if we make decisions that take all groups into account, not just those at the top.
Written by Democrat Writer, Christopher Norman
Point of Information
We Must Look at What is Causing This New Gilded Age – A Republican Response
Christopher’s article does an excellent job of raising a variety of points and concerns ever-present in American society. His analysis of the causes and effects of the growing wealth divide in the country is both accurate and moderate. Quite frankly I find it hard to disagree with any of the points made. The problem of extreme wealth concentration is ingrained into the mind of any socially conscious citizen. However, it seems that after almost two and a half centuries, the solution continues to elude America’s politicians. It is a chronic problem that has plagued the United States (and many other countries) since its inception.
However, the political and economic power that has always been concentrated in the hands of a few is not a new phenomenon. At times there have been glances of improvement. One may look back at the 1950s, a “golden era” rather than a gilded age in which the working and middle classes did quite well. Improvement seemed to know no bounds (keep in mind of course that this only applied to a certain portion of the population, women and people of color still had to face many hardships). Since the 50s there has been a general trend towards political and economic democratization. Yet the issue of inequality always seems to come back.
The newest instalment in the saga of wealth super-concentration would be established titans of tech, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. In the current era, these men and firms seem to wield comparable power to Carnegie and Rockefeller. However, to tackle a problem, one must know what caused it. Why is it that enormous wealth inequality keeps haunting America? What Christopher’s article lacks is a clear exposition of the causes of the growing divide. This can be without a doubt not be attributed to the greed of industrialists. It is because of ineffective and counterproductive government economic policies time and time again. Regulations for businesses that only the largest firms can satisfy, creating high legal barriers to entry, allowing for predatory practices and ineffective worker protections. It’s often said that monopolies cannot exist without a state.
Christopher also brings up the issue of near-constant immigration into the US over the last few decades. Immigrants are still needed and desired in the service and tech industries. Immigrants seeking to work in these sectors are still coming in. The damage to the American worker is caused by uncontrolled immigration of persons willing to work at sub-par rates (by American standards). This guts American workers’ competitiveness. To say that “the people who benefit from this influx of cheap labor are not the one’s in the factories, but the executives who hire them,” is an excellent argument for controlled immigration.
Written by Republican Writer, Sebastian Bossu