A reader writes:
Having looked at the Simon Johnson piece and the excerpt from the Dish, I found a strange resonance with my current studies in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era from 1877 to 1919. What especially struck me was this particular quotation: "the winners in the financial sector knew better what was good for America than did the career civil servants in Washington". Its eerily familiar to the term "identity of interest" used by Nell Irvin Painter to describe a common view amongst American capitalists and particularly the Republican Party at the end of the nineteenth century.
This was a supposed common interest shared by both the masses who worked and the capitalists who owned the mines, factories, and mills in the continued prosperity and development of American industry. The result was a government that did not intervene with the workings of industry in the fear that by doing so it would imperil not only the capitalists but working America as well. It was, in short, about prosperity, not equity. Fast-forward a little over a century and we seem to have come full circle, but instead of industry, we have financial institutions 'developing wealth'.
The workings and inner dealings of these institutions are not so far removed from the monopolies, vertical/horizontal trusts, and power-brokering of railroads and steel mills of the nineteenth century. Carnegie, Gould, Rockefeller and J.P Morgan have been replaced by monolithic organizations such as AIG, Citibank and... J.P Morgan. The opaque, confusing, contradictory and self-serving nature of these institutions hark back to the scandals of the Grant Administration, the speculation of leading to the Panic in 1907, and the repression of the labour movement. And as the average American worker of the nineteenth century suffered through depressions in 1873, 1893-8, 1907, 1914 and 1919, workers not only in America but around the world suffer through bubbles, speculation, debt and increased cost of living now while the rich are disconnected from the general populace.
It is ironic that Painter's book is called Standing at Armageddon, a quote from Theodore Roosevelt's notes. It refers to Roosevelt's feeling that American society was on the brink, an exaggeration of the claims about the Red menace that seemed to have afflicted America since the strikes of 1877 and 1886. So it is today, except the screechers have become Republican members of Congress and hosts on mass media networks. I can only hope that the economic climate and political discourse does not degenerate into the extreme racial violence and 'red scares' such as those seen immediately after the First World War. One can only hope that the Sedition Act never be resurrected, though the calls of "traitor" and "socialist" were whispered and shouted from above in these last 8 years. Finally, one can only hope that Painter's figurative Armageddon does not turn into a true one with America's weakened position in the world leading to a rise of rogue states and terrorists with the weaponry to obliterate us all.
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