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The Prosperity of the Gilded Age

The period of 1870 – 1900 is often called the Gilded Age and was marked by the unprecedented expansion of industrial capacity and urbanization in America.  Many influential historians paint this period of American history in sinister terms, only emphasizing the corruption of some of its politicians and big businesses, while highlighting the disparity between the very rich and the poor.   In 1964, the following was written by Albert C. Ganley and typifies the general feeling of these historians towards this period of time.  “Millions of Americans… did not share in the American dream.  The cities swarmed with people enduring sweatshop and ghetto, poverty and disease, intolerance and injustice.”1   Although the Gilded Age was not without its blemishes (as with most time periods), how many Americans are aware that, astonishingly,  the real earning power for the average American doubled during the Gilded Age? 2  And further, most Americans don’t realize that compared to other periods in American history, “[i]n terms of real wage growth, …real wages of unskilled labor rose 1.43 percent per year during the Gilded Age, [but only] 0.56 percent per year during the Progressive era, and only .44 percent per year from 1990 to 2006.”3  In comparison, the economic growth and earning power of average Americans during the Obama administration has seen a significant decline, “…[b]ased on new estimates derived from the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, real median annual household income…has fallen by 4.8 percent since the ‘economic recovery’ began in June 2009.4

For political advantage, progressives often focus on the difference in wages and lifestyle between the rich and poor (creating class envy) and neglect to acknowledge that with increased economic freedom real income significantly improves for both groups as it did during the Gilded Age.  A universal constant of society is that there will always be differences in income.  Sadly, progressives have successfully exploited this difference in order to manipulate Americans into seeking greater government intervention by promising an unattainable equality of lifestyle.  Ironically, when government attempts to manufacture “equality” by bringing down the rich to prop up the poor, overall wealth and freedom decrease for everyone – both the rich and poor citizens….all while government quietly increases in power and control.

1 Ganley, Albert C. The Progressive Movement: Traditional Reform. 1964. 8. Print.

2 <http://themagazinist.com/uploads/Part_1_Population_and_Literacy.pdf> (page 4) Oct. 2012

3 <http://www.nber.org/papers/w14555.pdf > (page 6) Oct. 2012

4<http://www.sentierresearch.com/pressreleases/Sentier_PressRelease_PostRecessionaryHouseholdIncomeChange_June09toJune12_08_23_12.pdf> Oct. 2012

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