Posts Tagged ‘history of inequality’


“If You Care About Inequality, You Should Care About Unions,” Slate, July 1, 2014

Most commentary on the Supreme Court’s Harris decision has emphasized the ruling’s limited nature: While public-sector unions can no longer collect certain administrative fees, the decision could have been much broader, and much more damaging to organized labor. But there is another, more important decision that still needs to be made when it comes to unions, and this one will happen mostly outside of the courts. Unless something dramatic changes, Americans are on the verge of living in a nation where the right to organize and to belong to a labor union no longer exists. The country will need to decide, sooner rather than later, if those rights are worth preserving. Read the rest....

“The Boss of Bosses,” Slate, May 23, 2012

A hundred years ago, the most famous banker in America testified before Congress in one of his last public appearances. His name (hint: you’ve seen it in recent headlines) was John Pierpont Morgan, the redoubtable founding father of today’s JPMorgan Chase. At the time, Morgan was without peer in American banking, simultaneously the old man and the great innovator of American finance. The list of corporations he organized was legendary: U.S. Steel, International Harvester, General Electric. So was his personal power. From the dawn of the Gilded Age, he reigned as “the boss of bosses,” in the words of muckraker Lincoln Steffens, a mystical figurehead and ruthless businessman wrapped up in a single top-hatted, pot-bellied package. Read the rest....

“A Drunkard in the Gutter is Just Where He Ought to Be,” Slate, March 29, 2012

Last month, Rick Santorum announced that he likes inequality. “There is income inequality in America,” he told the Detroit Economic Club in a much-quoted speech. “There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.” Many political observers have since ridiculed this stance, declaring Santorum “unhinged,” or at least unfit to conduct a serious presidential campaign. But the positive defense of inequality is not entirely new in American politics. From the moment that social reformers began to “discover” poverty in the 19th century, naysayers were on hand to explain why extremes of wealth and poverty made for a just society. By embracing inequality, Santorum is reviving the politics of our last Gilded Age. Read the rest....

“Radical Solutions to Economic Inequality,” Slate, February 15, 2012

A century ago, in one of his last acts of office, President William Howard Taft attempted to solve the problem of inequality in America. In August 1912, on the cusp of a brutal third-place finish in the presidential election, he created a Commission on Industrial Relations to investigate “the general condition of labor in the principal industries.” Despite its fusty charge, the commission turned out to be one of the most sensational sideshows of the Progressive Era, a cross-country journey through the wilds of American class conflict. For three years, government commissioners traipsed from city to city asking capitalists, union organizers, and reformers what it was like to work in America, and whether the spoils of industry seemed to be distributed fairly among the rich and poor. Read the rest....


“Greater Expectations,” New York Times Book Review, September 18, 2011

We might as well call it: The American left is dead. Faced with the greatest crisis of capitalism in almost a century, the left has mounted no effective mass protests, inspired no significant uprisings, spawned no major institutions or policy revolutions. In Wisconsin, labor unions lost their greatest public battle since Ronald Reagan’s showdown with air traffic controllers. In the midterm elections, the Tea Party, not the left, took advantage of economic discontent to upend the status quo. Today, the dream of socialism exists mostly as a far-right phantom, to be conjured up when Democrats dare to imply that Medicare or Social Security might serve the public good. Read the rest....