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March 01, 2005

20050224 Econ 113 Lecture: Gilded Age and Progressive Era

20050224 Econ 113 Lecture: Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Two parts to this lecture:


What was Populism? Three things:

Was populism left or right? Neither. It was for the little guy, and against coastal elites. It could swing either left or right...

Populism ran out of steam and was superseded by Progressivism, which sold itself as a pragmatic movement that tried to tackle the problems of the Gilded Age.

Problem 1: Rural poverty, especially in the South (what seemed a good rural standard of living in 1840 no longer seemed good in 1900, when output per capita was at least four times higher). Solution: education and uplift; public health. Rockefeller and hookworm.

Problem 2: Urban poverty. Public health (The Jungle by Upton Sinclair). Wages and working conditions (Triangle Shirtwaist fire). Unionization--America's bloody labor history. Immigration and acculturation. Solution: Good government and regulation.

Problem 3: Large corporations. Not us, but them. Malefactors of great wealth. Monopoly prices. Quality of output. Solution: Good government and regulation.

Progressive-Era responses to these problems:

In general, the exaltation of technocrats (and sometimes direct democracy) over politicians.

Not a welfare state, not a social-insurance state, but a regulatory-commission state.

Progressivism "worked": there was no socialism in the United States

Progressiism was a minority current: Theodore Roosevelt's creation, first as president and then as spoiler-ally of the Democrats allowing Woodrow Wilson to gain the presidency.


American Industrial Supremacy

Three "competitors" for "industrial supremacy" around 1900: Germany, Britain, U.S. Britain in 1860 is the world's industrial superpower. You would think that the world's industrial superpower has an enormous advantage in being the icebreaker for new technologies. But Britain wasn't.

The high tech industries of the late-nineteenth century went elsewhere:

German edges:

British deficiencies:

American additional edges, beyond resources and scale"

Leon Trotsky in 1917: the U.S. is the furnace where the future is being forged.

Posted by DeLong at March 1, 2005 12:11 PM