Friday, April 20, 2012

Wealth and Democracy


Reading this morning that the 40 richest persons in the world have a combined wealth of over $1 trillion, I found myself searching for books on how it came to be this way in an age of unprecedented worldwide democracy.  I came across Jack Beatty's dark look at the Gilded Age, which he calls an Age of Betrayal.  Indeed, this was a time when we were supposed to be redeeming the recalcitrant Southern states and ushering in a new age of civic freedom.  Instead, we saw a great consolidation of wealth, which would last until well into the 20th century, before the Roosevelt-Taft anti-monopoly laws finally took effect, and the introduction of federal income tax.  Beatty explores the period 1865-1900, when that consolidation of wealth took place.  Looks like hard reading,


Beatty leaves it to others to describe the glamour of the Gilded Age. Instead he makes viscerally clear the grinding poverty, the bloody racial hatred, the violent labor strikes, and the corrupt politics that also characterize that era. And he makes clear, too, the parallels with our own time, where once again a yawning gap has opened between rich and poor, and political influence is available for the taking by anyone willing and able to pay.


From The Atlantic

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