New Gilded Age
During the Gilded Age of the last quarter of the 19th century, the country saw economic growth, industrial expansion, and unprecedented immigration. It was the period that gave rise to a new breed of super-rich industrialists and financiers. John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Henry Flagler all made their vast fortunes during the relatively brief twenty year period. They were collectively known as “Robber Barons” for their ruthless business deals and flamboyant lifestyles.
It was also a time of corrupt politics from City Hall to the federal branches. There were accusations of deals made in smoky back rooms, falsified ballots, and other shady dealings. The favoritism, bribery, kickbacks, inefficiency, waste and corruption were generally accepted as normal business. The negativity of the political scene brought about the sensationalized newspaper stories known as “Yellow Journalism”, which told of wild exploits by the famous and displaced real, factual news.
People came from all over the world for the opportunities those jobs in the big factories held. Nearly 10 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island, which was built in 1892 to accommodate the influx of humanity.
Fast forward one hundred years or so... The average annual compensation for a CEO of a S&P 500 company is $14.78 million, while the median annual household income in the U.S. is $46,326. So far, 257 companies have announced internal reviews, SEC inquiries, or Justice Department subpoenas related to stock option backdating. The richest Americans have seen their household income increase over 200%, while the middle income family saw a 15% increase (more info on the income gap.)
Favoritism, bribery, kickbacks, inefficiency, waste and corruption, once again describes our political system, while Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan dominate the news. Americans are in hock up to their eyeballs thanks to deceptive lending practices. The housing market and sub-prime mortgage meltdown may have longer term affects on the financial markets. Only time will tell.
It seems to me that we are living in a New Gilded Age.
You'll recall from your eighth grade American History class, the Gilded age was followed by the Progressive Era, which brought such “enlightenments” as Prohibition and income tax.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana (1863–1952), U.S. philosopher and poet