The Real Villain Behind Our New Gilded Age Reply

The new robber barons are upon us. 2018 is so 19th century.

By Eric Posner and Glen Weyl

New York Times

The comedian Chris Rock once said, “If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” Populist revolts throughout the world may not count as street riots, but they do reflect disenchantment with not just our government but also liberal democracy itself.

In the past two decades, growth rates in the United States have fallen to half of what they were in the middle of the 20th century. The share of income accruing to the top 1 percent has nearly doubled since the 1970s, while the share of income going to all workers has fallen by nearly 10 percent.

These are the marks of our new Gilded Age. It’s tempting to blame impersonal market forces such as globalization and automation for widening inequality. But the true villain would be familiar to anyone who lived through the previous one: market (that is, monopoly) power.

Image
An 1880 political cartoon from a New York paper depicting Standard Oil — one of the great monopolies of the 19th century — as a “horrible monster, whose tentacles spread poverty, disease and death.”

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