Monday, May 27, 2019

The New Gilded Age vs. The Gilded Age (NOT THE SAME)

Sometimes, one wonders why the people don't rise up against the status quo now - because it seems to many of us (including me) that we are in a New Gilded Age.

But, objectively, we are not. The Government and Capitalism itself have built in a mediating system - primarily by spreading wealth much further than before. The percentages don't tell the entire story. Let me quote from a PBS special on the Gilded Age versus ours (link).

One statistic cited by the Gilded Age documentary is that, by the time of that 1897 ball, the richest 4,000 families in the U.S. (representing less than 1% of the population) had about as much wealth as other 11.6 million families all together. By comparison, as of November 2017, the three richest individuals in the U.S. had as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. According a recent CNN analysis of Federal Reserve data, as of the end of 2017, the top 1% of Americans held 38.6% of the nation’s wealth.

 But what that statistic doesn't disclose is the absolute poverty of the non-rich in the Gilded age, versus the relative wealth of today. The images of working poor are frightening and normal for the time.

But today's economic climate has changed  in such a way that we are loath to attack it.

1. Absolute poverty and death have been drastically reduced in the United States. We can argue over the how good or crappy our safety net, but the truth is there is a safety net now. People, old or young, don't starve in the streets anymore. (note: I understand homelessness and the peril that it brings, but it is nothing like it was in the Gilded Age when it was normal and accepted).

2. There are laws which have limited the ability for employers from their worst business practices. Laws since the first Gilded Age include child labor laws, minimum wage laws OSHA safety laws, union safety laws, 40 hour work weeks, clean water and air acts. True, there has been some backsliding, particularly around Trump's Administration and environmental rules, but generally the government has improved working AND living conditions. I would say almost all Americans have access to clean water, reasonably clean air and indoor plumbing - luxuries in the Gilded Age.

3. The massive growth of a middle class. The Gilded Age was very much divided between have and have-nots. And the have-nots were very much poorer.  We now have a fairly massive middle class that enjoys relatively excellent access to necessities at least some luxuries (television, desert and free time). Most of us can afford a place to live, to go to the movies, to eat well and eat out every now and then and to provide for our families. We are safe at home, traveling, sleeping and our families are safe. That was not true int he Gilded Age. In fact, one of the few things that scares our middle class is the fear of falling out of it with one bad illness.

4. There are a lot more rich people. Relative wealth might not be much different from the Gilded Age, that is the richest of the rich own in percentage terms tons more than the rest of us, but there are a lot of people that are, or feel, rich. Many of us can afford things like vacations, private schools (or live where there are good public schools) a new car every now and then and our own home.

5. The worst of capitalism's excess occur outside of our country. Capitalism still exploits workers, employs children, pollutes land and air and has unsafe working conditions. But this happens outside the United States (and the developed / OCED countries). The worst of this happens outside our view.

There would be rioting on the streets if the non-rich still lived as they did in the original Gilded Age. But we don't. While we should not be content, we should not ignore the positive changes that have occurred. And remember, these changes would not have occurred if people hadn't protested, marched and voted.

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What is too much Taylor Swift

 This much ... when the singer is used to send a message about POSSIBLE future problems?