At the rise of the industrial revolution, @cafreeland reminds that income inequality was recognized in 1886, and plutocrats could acted then, as they could act now, to save capitalism from itself.
What [Henry] George found [in 1886] most mysterious about the economic consequences of the industrial revolution was that its failure to deliver economic prosperity was not uniform — instead it had created a winner-take-all society: “Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others find it hard to get a living at all. The ‘tramp’ comes with the locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of ‘material progress’ as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied.”
George’s diagnosis was beguilingly simple — the fruits of innovation weren’t widely shared because they were going to the landlords. This was a very American indictment of industrial capitalism: at a time when Marx was responding to Europe’s version of progress and poverty with a wholesale denunciation of private property, George was an enthusiastic supporter of industry, free trade and a limited role for government. His culprits were the rentier rich, the landowners who profited hugely from industrialization and urbanization, but did not contribute to it.
George had such tremendous popular appeal because he addressed the obvious inequity of 19th century American capitalism without disavowing capitalism itself. George wasn’t trying to build a communist utopia. His campaign promise was to rescue America from the clutches of the robber barons and to return it to “the democracy of Thomas Jefferson.” That ideal — as much Tea Party as Occupy Wall Street — won support not only among working class voters and their leaders, like Samuel Gompers, but also resonated with many small businessmen. Robert Ingersoll, a Republican orator, attorney and intellectual, was a George supporter. He urged his fellow Republicans to back his man and thereby “show that their sympathies are not given to bankers, corporations and millionaires.”
America today urgently needs a 21st century Henry George — a thinker who embraces the wealth-creating power of capitalism, but squarely faces the inequity of its current manifestation.
Excerpt from book “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else” by Chrystia Freeland at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chrystia-freeland/plutocrats-book_b_1997899.html.