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This edition: The New Robber Barons

Episode Details

Original tape date: December 19, 2014.

First aired: December 29, 2014.

America’s first Gilded Age, more than a century ago, was a time of vast riches and conspicuous consumption, as well as degrading poverty. “It wasn’t merely that poverty lived alongside great wealth,” historian Steve Fraser tells Bill Moyers on this week’s Moyers & Company, “It’s that poverty was being created by great wealth.” Senators and Representatives were owned by Wall Street and Big Business, and then, as now, those who footed the bill for political campaigns were richly rewarded with favorable laws. We've just watched the Senate and the House -- aided and abetted by President Obama -- pay off financial interests with provisions in the new spending bill that expand the amount of campaign cash wealthy donors can give and let banks off the hook for gambling with customer( and taxpayer) money.
The social safety net, Fraser says, has been “shredded to a very significant degree.” But what was different about the first Gilded Age is that people rose in rebellion. Today we do not see “that enormous resistance.” Nonetheless, he concludes, “people are increasingly fed up… their voices are not being heard.  And I think that can only go on for so long without there being more and more outbreaks of what used to be called class struggle, class warfare.”
Steve Fraser is a writer, editor and scholar of American history. Among his books are Every Man a Speculator, Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace and Labor Will Rule. His latest, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, will be published early next year.

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