By Erik Loomis
1. Unregulated Corporate Capitalism Creates Economic Collapse
In the late 19th century, corrupt railroad capitalists created the Panic of 1873 and Panic of 1893 through lying about their business activities, buying off politicians and siphoning off capital into their own pockets. Railroad corporations set up phony corporations that allowed them to embezzle money from the railroad into their bank accounts. When exposed, the entire economy collapsed as banks failed around the country. The Panic of 1893 lasted five years, created 25% unemployment, and was the worst economic crisis in American history before the Great Depression.
In the early 21st century, the poorly regulated financial industry plunged the nation into the longest economic downturn since the Depression. Like in the Gilded Age, none of the culprits have served a day in prison.
2. Union Busting
In the Gilded Age, business used the power of the state to crush labor unions. President Hayes called in the Army to break the Great Railroad Strike of 1877; President Cleveland did the same against the Pullman strikers in 1894.
Today’s corporations don’t have to use such blunt force to destroy unions, but like in the past, they convince the government to do their bidding. Whether it is holding up FAA renewal in order to make it harder for airline employees to unionize, Republican members of the National Labor Relations Board leaking material on cases to Republican insiders, or governors Scott Walker and John Kasich seeking to bust their states’ public sector unions, not since before the Great Depression has the government attacked unions with such force.
3. Income Inequality
Today, we have the highest levels of income inequality since the 1920s and the gap is widening to late 19th century levels with great speed. In those days, individuals like John D. Rockefeller had more money than the federal government, while the majority of Americans lived in squalor, poverty and disease.
In the Progressive Era, we started creating laws like the federal income tax, child labor laws and workers’ compensation to begin giving workers a fair share of the pie. For decades, labor fought to increase their share and by the 1970s, had turned much of the working class into the middle class. Today, that middle class is under attack by a new generation of plutocrats who wish to recreate the massive fortunes of the Gilded Age.
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