The Reality of Wealth in America is Not What We Think It Is

In the last 50 years, wealth has concentrated in the top 10%, particularly the top 1% in the United States. Those who see no problem with this, argue that wealth creation is not a zero sum game. The argument is that those who work hard and develop commercial projects hire those who are not so fortunate. That is true to a certain extent. Nevertheless, the great age of the American middle class and the time when America was at its financial strongest was in the 1950s and 60s when a CEO didn’t make in one hour what a worker made in a month.

Interestingly, many of the same economic forces at work now are similar to what existed in 1900. There were great economic inequality then and powerful monopolies. The political alignments of American politics were quite different too.

Back in the Civil War, the Democrats were the conservative party. The Republicans, under Lincoln, were the progressives and believed in government intervention. After the Civil War, the Republicans dominated politics for 50 years. That was the time industrialization hit all gears. The Republicans became the party of industrialization, especially business — big business. Industrialists like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan even influenced who was going to be president, like William McKinley. The Democrats became more the party of the farmer and industrial worker.

William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat, and the only man to get a major party nomination for president three times and lose all of them, ran as a populist. He was against monopolies or trusts as they were referred to then. Although they agreed on little, Republican Teddy Roosevelt also campaigned against trusts and broke them up as president.

By 1912, politics had been turned on its head. The Republicans remained a party of business, but they surrendered the title of progressive to the Democrats. Actually, the Democrats didn’t really embrace that title until FDR, but the process was on the way.

All this is relevant because we are in a similar situation today. What this country needs are Republicans and Democrats who can agree on the issue of economic reform as Bryan and Roosevelt did. Without that, economic and political power will continue to be concentrated into the hands of the few and that is not good for the pocketbooks of regular Americans or democracy.

Roosevelt and Bryan campaigned for a more level economic playing field, not a level one as socialism promises but never provides. Those changes led to a century of economic growth and wealth. If the current trends of the last 20-30 years continues, the U.S. is going to look more like a financially backward country like Zimbabwe, dominated by nepotism, than a country based on equality of opportunity for all.

Take a look at this video, which describes what may be the greatest problem in America today.

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