Our current ‘Gilded Age’ benefits only the super wealthy

Today’s super wealthy succeeded in another Gilded Age, negating many laws that protect middle class.

“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money. I can’t remember what the second is” (Mark Hanna 1898).

“The term Gilded Aged was coined by Mark Twain in a novel of that title in 1873…. It was meant to describe an American society with a glittering surface of gold that concealed a corrupt core” (Joseph P. Ellis, “American Dialogue”). According to Ellis, we are now living in America’s Second Gilded Age, where income inequality is at a higher level than during the first Gilded Age.

In our time, as in the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we are living in an era where most of the wealth of the nation goes into the pockets of the super wealthy. According to Ellis, 60 percent of the nation’s wealth goes to the richest 10 percent. If you divide that 60 percent, the top 10 percent controls 30 percent of that wealth, and the top 0.1 percent owns 10 percent.

This imbalance is a threat to our democracy. Democracy depends on a strong and stable middle class. The middle class has sustained our nation since its beginnings. Without hope of moving up the social ladder, we develop a permanent and stagnant underclass open to the promises of demagogues.

According to the Gini index, there was a period between 1930 and 1980 that economists have called “The Great Compression.” Income taxes were raised to an average of 75 percent of the wealthy’s income and wages for the poor rose. FDR brought stability with his New Deal programs such as Social Security and government regulation of industry.

Most senior citizens today remember that era as “The Golden Age” where companies gave pensions which, combined with Social Security, allowed people to retire. For the lower classes, those pensions have disappeared, being replaced by the more historically common reality of having to work until you die.

Part of the reason for the shift is a population that is living well past the age of 65. Another explanation is globalization, where working class jobs flow to low-wage regions of the world. Automation has only sped up the loss of jobs.

President Ronald Reagan, a hero to the right, brought an end to that period of relative income equality with his libertarian view that government was the problem instead of the solution.

According to Ellis, 70 percent of the nation trusted government in the early 1960s. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights era and Watergate eroded that trust. Reagan pushed for tax cuts and the end of the New Deal, something neither of his Republican predecessors, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, had done. Reagan cut taxes, mostly for the super rich. The highest tax brackets were reduced from 75 percent to 39 percent. The minimum wage level stayed at 1970s levels for decades and multiple tax loopholes were added to protect upper class wealth.

The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 was voided by Democratic President Bill Clinton’s signature in 1999. The end of Glass-Steagall eliminated most of federal checks on investment banking and helped pave the way for the “Great Recession” beginning in 2007-08.

The Citizens United Supreme Court decision of 2010 opened the floodgates of “dark money,” where wealthy donors could give as much money to the political process as they desired without having to reveal their identities. Individuals like Charles and David Koch, along with their super wealthy allies, helped to bring this about by pouring money into universities and elections beginning in the 1980s. They have worked tenaciously and systematically to demonize the federal government.

Mark Hanna’s quote has seemed to become truer with the passage of time.

Chronicling and documentation of this concerted effort by the super wealthy can be read in Jane Mayer’s book, “Dark Money.”

According to Ellis, the super wealthy have succeeded in returning America to another Gilded Age, negating much of the laws that protected the middle class.

In my lifetime I have witnessed the end of The Golden Era, at least for those with only high school educations. As Ellis concluded, “The emergence of a permanently stratified American society represented a welcome return to the natural order where the Captains of Industry ruled the earth.”

I am concerned for the fate of my children and grandchildren in this Second Gilded Age. You should be, too.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Back to the wild — a whole new outdoor recreation world | Guest editorial

When enjoying the great outdoors, continue to socially distance and be aware of how else COVID-19 has changed our world.

KCLS is stepping up its commitment to patrons

KCLS has expanding its online resources so patrons can continue to learn, build skills, stay entertained and remain mentally and physically active amid the pandemic.

Ardra Arwin.
‘Let’s not go out and play!’

A poem by Renton resident Ardra Arwin, age 8

How using a face mask to cover my Asian face could put me in danger

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Asians and Asian Americans have been targeted.

Opinion: Public deserves honest information on sex education

The Washington comprehensive sex education bill passed in the Senate on March 7.

Grocery store staff are working hard to keep the shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo
Thank you grocery store clerks

Recognizing the sacrifices of our unsung essential workforce.

Catch each other during this fall

How we can use the quarantine to reflect on necessary social changes

To our elected officials: Be bold, be consistent, be honest, be helpful

By Patrick Grubb, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Governor Jay Inslee has been… Continue reading

Letters to the editor for the week of March 13

Reader worries about the county’s reach Dear editor, The article regarding King… Continue reading

As the deadline nears, state lawmakers face a few challenges

There are four major decisions lawmakers are tackling before the end of this legislative session.

A tax break for working families

As rents continue to climb in our communities, as food prices continue… Continue reading

Accelerating equity in STEM education in the Puget Sound

At the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), headquartered in Seattle’s South Lake… Continue reading