August 13, 2012

The new Gilded Age, a lost decade or more, and today's politics


Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential candidate makes it clear that today’s Republicans believe that this is a new Gilded Age — and should be so.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s Catfood Commission and other actions, including trying to sing Kumbaya with Speaker of the House John Boehner, even as the Ryans of his party had emasculated Boehner, make it clear that the Dear Leader types within the growing neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party want to, to riff on old man Poppy Bush, give America a kinder, gentler new Gilded Age. Or to riff on his son, Shrub Bush, that they want to make neoliberalism a socially more liberal version of compassionate conservativism.

And, tis clear, with income inequality not just at its worst since the Great Depression but its worst since World War I, and continuing to widen, that we are indeed in a new Gilded Age, or rapidly approaching one.

Now, let’s tie in the rest of the elements of the header.

Everybody in the world of economics talks about fears of a "lost decade" like Japan (unless they're Mitt Romney and say Japan had a lost century), but nobody from left or right stops to think that we're arguably halfway there or more. The housing bubble started bursting in 2006, though the sheiss didn't hit the Wall Street fan until 2007 and later. Well, from 2006 on, 2007-present is 5.5 years, going over half a decade.

So, we’re in a lost decade already. My friend Leo Lincourt notes that many economists saltwater and freshwater alike argue we could face a lost generation.

And, has that that happened before?

Yes …

Back in the Gilded Age!

Parallels of parallels, for many, with the “Panics” of 1873 and 1893, and the deflation between the two, and all the other things ... the Gilded Age was arguably the same for many.

Right now, we’re at the border of deflation, and if gas prices zoom up and stay up, we’ll be in some new version of Jerry Ford’s “stagflation.”

Meanwhile, other parallels with the Gilded Age?

Growing antiunionism, to some degree among both parties. Republican Rutherford Hayes used federal troops as strikebreakers in 1877; Democrat Grover Cleveland did the same in 1894. We know about Romney. Obama? Other than picking up a campaign check, what has he done for unions lately?

Growing laissez-faire attitudes. That’s definite among Republicans, fairly definite among Blue Dog Democrats, and a lurking possibility, with spin, from neolibs.

Nativism. It was against Eastern and Southern Europeans in the original Gilded Age, and of course, against Hispanics today.

Monetary issues as a deterrent from real issues.

Some in the GOP attack the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing.” The rabid Ron Paul types go much further and argue for returning to the gold standard. The original Gilded Age had the gold standard vs. bimetallism.

Final parallels.

Individual candidate driven third-party movements of the 20th century aside (Roosevelt’s Bull Moose, La Follette’s Progressives, George Wallace’s American Independent Party), the late 19th century was the height of third-party movements in America. Let’s see about today, even with the more massively uphill fight of today.

Here's one of those third parties, with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein profiled here.

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