tv Discussion on Henry George Labor and the Gilded Age CSPAN August 3, 2016 6:39pm-8:01pm EDT
stay on the gold standard or add silver to the money supply. after he made that speech, people got so excited, they carried him out on their shoulders and lo and behold, he was nominated as the presidential nominee at the age of 36. the impact that bryan had on public policy in this country i think very few people realize the impact he had, both on the democratic party and on just policy in general. because when he came on the scene, the democratic party was the more conservative party and bryan was very much a liberal in his politics, very conservative in his religion, but very liberal in his politics. and he turned the party on its head and it's never gone back. he was really the predecessor to franklin roosevelt's new deal and president johnson's great society. and the "wall street journal" did a feature article comparing
obama to bryan with the income redistribution philosophy of government. our profile of presidential candidates continues tonight on american history tv with a look at william jennings bryan, a three-time democratic presidential candidate around the turn of the century. he also served as secretary of state under president woodrow wilson. that's at 8:00 p.m. eastern time here on c-span3. coming up next on american history tv, author edward o'donnell talks about the growing economic inequality of the late 19th century, also known as the gilded age. he explores the role of henry george, a newspaper editor and reformer, who took up the fight against the separation of the classes on behalf of the labor movement. the gotham center for new york city history hosted this hour
and 20 minute event. thank you very much. thank you, suzanne, thank you to the gotham center. thank you to all of you coming out tonight. i know some of you are saying republican debate, or henry george, republican debate, henry george. so i'm pretty gratified that you chose henry george. hopefully you'll be glad that you did. so it's a great thrill always to come back to new york and to come back to the gotham center, a place that i've done other talks and people that i've worked with. it is a really wonderful event, and particularly wonderful because i finally get to talk about this henry george book. let me just jump right in by showing you a photo. getting a little personal here. but that's me when i started this book. you may -- you may see that i don't look quite that young anymore. a little bit hairier and all. the funny thing is just when i decided to write this book when
i was in graduate school, someone had mentioned to me there's a henry george tree in central park. i said i did not know that. five days later, i'm walking through central park -- it's 840 acres. bigger than monaco. it is a large piece of land. i reach down to tie my shoe and i -- i'm not kidding you -- tied my shoe next to the henry george tree. i thought, that's got to be -- i don't really believe in these cosmic signs but this was a cosmic sign of some sort. i'm on the right track, i better do it. we actually happened to have a camera with us, too, which was kind of funny. i've been working on this so long that one of my daughters, who's now 25, used to ask me, daddy, when are you going to finish that or have you finished your book on curious george? so it has been a while. it's been a bit of an odyssey. i will not tell you any of the details except life is what happens when you make firm plans. my first book is now out as my fourth book. it's thrilling to have it out. it is also in a strange way a better time for it to have come
out. i wouldn't have planned it this way but it is a better time for it to come out because of the relevance of the topic and henry george and these very big questions that are dogging our society right now. suzanne mentioned it. i'll get started with this question about living in a second gilded age. i always resist that idea that history repeats itself. i think that's too simplistic. i think that mark twain had it right when he said history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. right? this second gilded age is not a replay of the first but there is an echo, a rhyme, a reflection of that earlier period. we can see they in literature. look at some of the titles of these books. all of which have the title "second gilded age" in the sub title or the title. these have all come out in recent years asking this question about, are we in a second gilded age and what does it mean? >> it is a pretty depressing thought to think that we're back in a second gilded age. but there are reasons i think to
be optimistic which i'll talk about in just a few moments. so another reason -- another way that i like to talk about henry george, this fascinating figure from the 19th century, again to make a connection to the present, is in a lot of ways, he is the thomas pickedy of the 20th century. the press sold 5,000 copies. essentially, he, if you just take this one quotation from this book, he's essentially arcing -- arguing the same point henry george did which is that extreme inequality of wealth can be harmful to growth because it reduces mobility and can lead to political capture by the super rich of our democratic institutions. so there is a lot to worry about when it comes to inequality. it is just that some people have a lot of stuff and some people have less stuff. it actually has very, very large implications for our society. let's begin, talk about who this guy, henry george was. henry george was born in 1839 to
a middle class, lower middle class family. his father was a book manufacturer, book salesman. george grew up in a fairly large family, fairly reasonably comfortable. a lot of people think because he wrote his famous book on poverty and talked about poverty a lot that he must have grown up in poverty. he actually experienced poverty in his middle years, fairly extreme. so henry george was not a very good student. he left school about the seventh grade. his parents just got fed up with it. his father steered him into a trade where he would learn the craft of typesetting which was a very important trade and a great opportunity. so george flourished as a types typesetter, but he was ambitious. in the middle 1850s he headed out to california. he is a very ambitious guy, guy who hopes to make it big. he is not sure what but he has this idea that he's destined for something great. once he gets out to california he's trying things and failing and living hand to mouth and sleeping in barns and really experiencing poverty full on.
and often off and on. he would succeed at something, and then fail. but the good thing is the printing trade always guaranteed him some kind of work. and it also got him into the door in journalism. he went from the typesetting room to doing a little bit of spot writing and editing, and eventually became a very successful editor out there in california for a whole bunch of different newspapers. started his own papers and so forth. but his life was very timultuous. even though he got married and had children he was sort of constantly doing well, riding on top of the world, then, crash, his newspaper would fail. or he would sell his newspaper in order to do something else, then that would fall through. so he had a lot of -- i forgot to advance the slide. there he is looking in his younger years at age 25 when he's out there on the make in california. the one way i like to encapsulate or bring across this idea of him experiencing this
kind of rise and fall is sort of emblematic of the boom and bust economy. he is his own boom and bust economy and he's trying to figure it out. on christmas eve, 1864, he's writing in his diary. he's a quintessential 19th country man. he believes if he just works hard enough and tries hard enough and makes good decisions he's guaranteed to succeed. so he's always chastising himself for being too rash and making bad decisions. here he is almost a new year's eve kind of resolution determined to cultivate habits of determination, energy and industry, feel that i am in a bad situation and must use my utmost effort to keep afloat and go ahead. so he's saying i'm just going to work harder and eventually come to the conclusion people like him are failing because there are larger forces at work. he ends this entry with -- saw land lady and told her i was not able to pay the rent. something that i think if anybody's ever been in that position, particularly with two young children, you know that's not a very good situation to be in.
henry george is shaped a little bit by his own personal background but he's also shaped by the troubling duality of the gilded age. gilded age is a great metaphor, right? a great term. mark twain coins the term. it suggests that on one hand, things look golden. it is a golden age. and it is an amazing age of technology, of wealth creation, of innovation, of booming cities and so forth. things look great. but on the other hand, like a piece of gilded -- think about a gilded bracelet. right? if you scratch off the gold, what's underneath there is a dark piece of, say, iron? it is not particularly exciting or enamoring. that's the image that the gilded age has this great pizazz, golden hue to it, but beneath the surface there's some pretty seriously bad, seriously dangerous things happening. so it is an age of optimism. trust me that that word says anxiety. not sure why we lost it there. george will dak take that
duality and captures it in the age of progress and poverty. this is the great problem of the age. but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. so let's just begin with looking at this idea of progress, how optimistic and upbeat people were in the late 19th century about what was going on. here's president grover cleveland. you can find speeches. virtually every presidential address has this kind of talk. every american citizen must contemplate with the utmost pride and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people and the demonstrated superiority of our free government, right? so cleveland is essentially saying free government, free enterprise, everything is great. we're booming along. of course a few weeks after he gives this address the panic of 1893 kicks in and the economy crashes and it is not so good looking. but cleveland's words really are reflective of how people spoke at all kinds of public events and presidential addresses and so forth about how great things were in that era. they're not making it up.
just look -- i won't bury you in statistics. just take a look at some of these numbers from the greatest period of the 19th century, the gilded age. just look at the right-hand column. you can see the bright red numbers of just extraordinary exponential growth in mfrgd goods output and just take steel, for example, steel is like a boutique industry in 1860 but by 1900 it's really the great dominant -- the great representative industry for that era. and -- and really incredible output, so there is wealth creation here. the united states is going to go in 1860 from the status as a developing country, kind of like brazil is today, to the world's most dominant economy. that's just in 40 years, so it's a pretty astonishing rise, and there's a lot of celebration to go with this. so in 1866, the atlantic cable is laying across the atlantic ocean connecting europe of and
the united states by telegraph. that's a big national celebration, really in some ways equivalent to at least in people's minds of the landing on the moon, really just an amazing technological breakthrough. seems so primitive to us, but it was a huge breakthrough at the time. so, too, was the transcontinental railroad when that was completed in 1869. tremendous celebrations. it's way the heck out in the middle of nowhere in utah, but it's essentially broadcast 19th century style by telegraph all across the country and they actually have a little telegraph wire atampd to the rail so when leland stanford drives the golden spike it connects and sends out a signal and people in public areas in new york, boston, chicago and boston, everywhere, all erupt in cheers when the continent is spanned. this is a great era of world's fairs or exposes so the philadelphia centennial is a huge world's fair. draws millions and millions of people from around the country and the world and the showcase event at this and all the other
world events is technology. there's the generaton the right, the most amazing piece of power generating machinery and powered the entire exposition. so it was a big, big kind of muscle flexing of america's technology and ingenuity, and locally right here the brooklyn bridge which today you look at brooklyn bridge and it's a beautiful old bridge. it's got this stone towers and the gothic archways and really kind of takes a lot of nostalgia associated with the brooklyn bridge but that's not true. when it opened in 1883 it was the most advanced piece of technology certainly in the united states and arguably in the world. it was a very complex machine. it was the great example of what steel could do, and so millions of people turned out for this unveiling of the brooklyn bridge. the president came, the congress game, world dignitaries game, and the speeches, as you can imagine when people gave their speeches talking about this glorious event, they used the word progress, progress, progress over and over again.
so there's a lot to celebrate in this time period. now, of course, there's also -- people would, if you went to the brooklyn bridge ceremonies, you wouldn't have to walk very far from the brooklyn bridge to find poverty, so there's no question that there's poverty in this period, but people who are of an optimistic mind, that everything is going great and we don't really need change anything had various responses to -- to poverty. one was a fairly traditional one, and here you see my people on the right. there's an irish couple sitting in the shanty and not terribly bothered by the poverty but josephine powell lowell was a famous anti-poverty reformer and her attitude refers to charity as the problem. poverty is not the problem but charity is the problem. luring hard working poem away from their hard work an turning them into, as she says, idle beggars essentially, so she
thinks the problem with poverty is that there's too much charity. americans are too good-hearted so she creates an organization called the charity organization society which in trout is actually the charity restriction society, trying to -- she's says there's too many soup kitschens and way too much free coal being griffin out and way too many free groceries to be had. we need to cut this down so we can help the poor see the virtues of hard work. a more harsh view emerged in this period which is called social darwinism, and it has a tremendous influence in these concepts of essentially assigning a scientific and divine plan to poverty, have great credence, and you hear these words like this coming out of the mouth of john d. rockefeller and andrew carnegie and many other people and notice the point here. what a blessing to let the unreformed drunk-yard and his children die, right. no ambiguity there. it's the way of the world is for the poor and the drunk-yard and the gluten and others to die, and thankfully when they die they won't, therefore, have any more babies and what benevolence
to let the lawless perish and the prudent survive. what publication did this come from, right? this comes from "the christian advocate," the number one selling christian publication in the united states. this is not fringe talk. this is mainstream talk by people who are trying to make sense of things. if you believe this, then you absolutely do not have to worry about poverty. it's going to take care of itself. you know, the poor, you shall always have with you, that kind of thing. all right. on the one and there's optimism. there's also -- it's also a period of tremendous anxiety, and you don't have to look for it very far. in fact, some people were both optimistic and anxious at the same time. they weren't sure which direction the country was heading in. so what are people worried about? not just henry george but many people are worried about what appears to be a rise in the -- in poverty. just take a look at this image here. when i show this image in public sometimes, i don't put any -- the caption to it. i just say what do you see here and more importantly what book would you associate this with?
and invariably somebody says dickens and that's exactly what the artists wanted you to think and this is a really important thing to think about when you think about the late 19th century and other periods, too, the late 19th century. what is the core of the american identity, well, there's several aspects to it and one of the cores of american identity in the 19th century was we're not european. it has nothing to do with ethnicity and those do with politics and social arrangements so throughout american history we're constantly worried and in the 20th century we'll be worried about communism. that takes its place but in the 19th century it's like are we becoming european? are we sliding towards a european style of society where you have kings and queens and landed aristocracy, fixed classes, state-supported churches and -- and endless war and social turmoil? and so this is an image that is really expressing that kind of anxiety. notice it's not in the socialist advocate, right. it's in the "harper's weekly,"
the nation's weekly publication, the best-selling one. shows a wealthy family and a poor family and raises that question about haves and have-nots and ma direction are we heading in? in fact this is in the middle the of the previous terrible depression. i already mentioned the depression of the 1890s, and just to give you a sense what have people are saying, that is quotation from a very -- probably one of the most important labor leaders in new york city talking to a congressional committee that traveled the country in 1883, trying to figure out what was going on. what is this incessant clash between labor and capital? why all the strikes and so forth and p.g. maguire sees the moment and look at this city with the long rows of tenement barracks with its working people shrinking back and people living in squalor and doesn't say it but european squalor, the kind of squalor we think of when we think of dickens and cities like manchester and liverpool. we're heading into that direction and better do something about it or we will no
longer have a republic that we would recognize. and walt whitman, the great voice of american democracy and certainly a man mostly completely enthusiastic about america and about the modern world and so forth. in 1879 he gives a speech in which he says, you know, just concentrate on what he says here. if the united states like the countries of the old world, there he is, right. like we don't want to be them, the old world countries, all right. if the united states are also to grow vast crops of poor, desperate, nomadic, miserably waged populations then our republican experiment, notwithstanding all the surface successes and i highlight that because there's the gilding notion is a heart and unhealthy failure. there's lots of people giving voice to this kind of anxiety about the way the country is going and whitman gets is in just a couple of words. we seem to be trending european. we seem to be losing our republic. i love that frads, by the way, republican experiment. that was a -- that phrase was
with us as a country, and as a society and a political culture right up to the end. 19th century and at a certain point when we became a global power experiment succeeded and don't need to worry about it anymore and it was a phrase that everybody used, the idea that it was fragile and unfolding and we needed to care for the republic and make adjustments like any good experiment and we've got this idea now that it was born in, you know, the late 18th century and -- and it was good, as soon as the constitution's ink was dry we were all set. of course, that's not really possible when one looks at the historical record. another source of anxiety. the rise of big business. business bigger than anybody could have conceived of. as henry george says the founding fathers, you know, they were brilliant people but they could never have conceived of a -- of a large corporation like, you know, carnegie steel or standard oil. there's just no way they could imagine that a single individual could have this much power unelected, undemocratic power in a democracy.
and here's one of my favorites. i have many of these great cartoons, and this one is called the bosses of the senate. let's all just take a moment to think how fortunate we are to live in a society when big business has not any sway at all in congress. way back in the bad old days the trusts, the big corporations, you can see them depicted as monnie bags, the steel trust, the copper trust and pretty fierce looking people. notice that they are coming in from the entrance of monopolists. there's a big doorway to allow them in and at the far end you can see the poem's entrance is nailed shut. there's a sign across it saying closed, so who has access? it's the corporations? who has no access? us, the people, and, of course, the size differential is important, too, to show that the leaders of the republic, these senators are actually little kids, many of whom are duricowhg
in front of the organizations. this is a mainstream publication called "puck" magazine. it's landing on the doorsteps of middle class and upper class americans, but -- so this is kind of a wide-waging anxiety about the nature of the problem in the gilded age. here's another one. it's showing the -- the sort of unfair duel that's taking place. again, it's another "puck" magazine one. notice all the symbolism, too. big business is depicted as a medieval knight. again, royalty, europe, aristocracy and so forth, and it's a gold knight, gilded age, golden era and also a locomotive, too, so it's a combination of the new technology. if you look really closely, the lance that the knight has says subsidized press meaning they own the newspapers. they own the media. the shield that he has is corruption of the legislature, and there are little scrawny
working man. he's got a little hamner his hand that says strike meaning the only weapon he has. that's why we have so many strikes. we would like to avoid them but the only way that labor gets any attention, can get any relief is to call a strike and most of them end up failing, and notice the horse that he's riding on is labeled poverty. notice also the divide on the left-hand side. you've got big business tycoons and if you were alive at the time you would recognize those faces. that's vanderbilt. that's jay gould, the kind of titans of wall street, and then on the right-hand side you see us, skinny, emaciated peasants looking like the figures out of a dickens novel. so there's a lot of anxiety here, and it's not just poor working people who are making a dollar a day. it's a widespread anxiety about the direction in which the republic is heading. rising increased inequality. that also becomes an important theme here and not just that there's a rise in poverty but there's -- a huge gap between rich and poor and it seems to be getting worse, and, again, no one is making this up. the data shows that this is
absolutely true. the 1%, to use a phrase from today, owned 51% of all wealth, and the lower 44%, so less than half the country earned only 1.2% so tremendous skewing of wealth in the united states, and it raised this kind of question about this, you know, sure, it's a free market and such but does this -- can we -- is this a sustainable trend? and if you look at where we are today, people always ask how does this compare to today? in 2010 which is the latest date that, i have, the 1% owns about 35% of all wealth and that's rising rapidly and it's up from 20% in 1979 so to put it another way. in the century from the late 19th century to the late 20th century wealth disparity actually decreased. think about this, after world war ii especially, the new deal that post-war period, we were never more equal and we were never more wealthy. it's a very important thing to -- to kind of think about in that 30-year period.
all right. another aspect, the european theme, sure we have super rich people and a growing mass of poor people and what are the rich doing? people are not imagining the europization of america and the europization of the american elite and the emergence of the american aristocracy. they are actually putting on the heirs of european aristocrats. the woman on the right, is you know, the wife of -- on the left is the wife of a very powerful businessman. show's dressed up for a costume ball as marie antoinette and there are people that will dress up as louis xiv and many, many other leaders of european royalty to. say that this is an unthinkable thing to do just 40 years earlier, socially unacceptable to mimic european royalty in kind of an admiring way tells us that something has shifted in the gilded age, that the nouveau riche are acting differently. there's be a ideal of republican simplicity which by the way you want to see in new york see the
new york fifth avenue mansions and the woman on the right, mrs. vanderbilt, build a palace on fifth avenue and there's a whole bunch of palaces like that on fifth avenue so that's how the rich express their wealth, you know, what's eventually in this period going to be called conspicuous consumption, but if you go down to granmercy park that's where the super richard in the 1830s and 1840s and think about -- those houses are thighs but very plain, unadorned, brownstone facade, wrought iron fence, republican simplicity. you don't flaunt it but 50 years later you flaunt it as much as possible and mrs. vanderbilt's ball will cost millions of dollars and in our today's money it will be covered by the press, and it will touch off a whole competition about who could throw the biggest and most expensive and most outrageous display of conspicuous consumption and here's just so you know, again, if i had shown you the image on the right.
just the interior image. many of you would not have thought of america. you would have thought of versailles. the opulent room furnished with all the finest things in gold leaf and so forth and that's fifth avenue in new york and that's the house warming party that she threw in the march of 1883. all right. another source of anxiety. rising labor capital conflict. it's no -- it's not imagination. it's actually happening on a scale never seen before in american history. here's the famous haymarket incident from may 4th, 1886. one of the most famous incidents, but there are lots of others. take a look at some of these numbers. between 881 and 1900 there were 37,000 strikes. in the years -- in all of american history, up till 1881, i'll bet you there were no more than 3,000 strikes so this is just a monumental growth in strikes. some of these are the biggest strikes in mesh history. strikes in which 100 people are killed in clashes with police and militia and so forth, strikes in which the entire national railroad system is shut
down, so these are big, big strikes, and there are also small strikes, neighborhood strikes as well, and it's got people saying, you know, we're -- what society do we associate with this kind of class clashing violence? it's europe, and so it seemed to be another source of evidence that we are losing our republican soul. why is labor day founded here in new york city in 1882? it's founded by workers, p.j. maguire, the man i quoted earlier. in 1882. why do they do it? because they feel that they are slipping, that they are the heart and soul of the republic, these workers, and their wages are declining, their power in the workplace is declining. the way their position in society seems to be slipping and so they call -- they say let's have a day and they pick september 5th, 1882, and they stage a parade and a big picnic, about 5,000 people show up. within five years it's happening all across the country and within ten years it's a national holiday.
that tells you a lot, thinvention of a holiday that there's something happening in this time period that people are calling attention to a social -- a social problem that needs addressing. all right. so henry george. how does he figure into all of this. well, in the 1870s he's a newspaper editor, and increasingly he's identified as a reformist editor. he's taking on questions of land reform, regulating the railroads, big questions out there in california. the rights of workers and so forth and he is, like a lot of people, really troubled by this dual quality. so much great stuff is happening with industrial capitalism, but also so many problems seem to be associated with it, and why -- you know, is there a way that we can keep the good stuff and get rid of the other stuff. what he terms progress and poverty. can we keep the progress and not have so much poverty and so much turmoil and, of course, other people were proposing solutions, socialists, the birth of the socialist movement in this time period and george will make a
very conscious decision to position himself as not a socialist. he'll say thereare laissez-faire capitalists that ought to be able to run the businesses the way they want to, that's an extreme, says henry george and socialism is another extreme we also need to avoid. he defined socialism in a couple of ways. talked about revolutionary socialism as opposed to gradual socialism. actually likes gradual socialism sort of phaseled in over 100 years. henry george in his spare time, only has a seventh grade education but reads like mad hand reads economics. he reads ricardo and adam smith and all the important political economists and determines that they all got it wrong, and he is going to sort this thing out and come up a diagnosis and a prescription. and here's -- he's a wonderful writer for a guy with a marginal education. this in some ways indicates to us why he becomes so popular. his book has parts that are very
complicated economic sections, but a lot of it is very, very beautifully written, almost poetic, very biblical. cites the bible all the time and other figures. great vivid examples, and here's essentially the crux of the problem. it is as though an immense wedge were being forced not underneath society which, of course, would lift everybody, but through society. those who are above the point of separation are elevated, the few, but those who are below are crushed down. i mean, he says that's the problem. we have to figure out where this wedge is coming from and how we can redirect it. all right. a couple of -- i won't -- the book is 535 pages so it would take us a couple of days to read through it, but i'll just give you a couple other nuggets from it. every where it's evident that this tendency to inequality cannot go much further without carrying out civilization into the downward path which is so easy to enter and so hard to abandon. george cites history. what happened to rome? rome was prosperous and mighty
and full of science and learning and incredible progress, and then rome just slid off, you know, off the cliff. what happened? and he says what happened was people began to monopolize land and the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and they hit a tipping point where there's no going back. society starts to slide and slides inevitably into the dust bin of history. and hi says we're on that path and it's not too late yet but we have to be very, very careful. we can't wait. we have to act immediately. and just think about the relevance of this quotation to our times in some ways. knowledge yet increases and invention marches on and cities still expand. civilization has begun to wane when in proportion to population we must build more and more prisons and more and more houses and more and more asylums, something is clearly not right.
he diagnoses the problem in 535 portion wealth, people in fortunate positions, lucky people, crafty people are gaining monetization of land but all key resources and that's locking out, essentially walling off opportunity for the masses and creating a spiral of destructive inequality, that the rich literally will get richer and the poor will get poorer and we'll lose our republican soul and the solution he comes up which is not as important as the diagnosis, i always make this point. people loved his diagnosis, very vivid and powerful and very alarming to hear what he had to say about where we were going. they are not so necessarily see enamored though there are people enamored with his single tax, his notion we need to establish a single tax on land, and that will solve everything, but the point i make before that is that we have to -- laissez-faire and small government has been
government up to this point but the founding fathers could never imagine an economy like this. they couldn't imagine, you know, a national railroad system, a -- a steel company the size of carnegie steel or a petroleum company the size of standard oil and that we need to make some small steps towards curbing certain aspects of the economy, and his idea is the single tax. some people, again, as i said, tried -- they liked what henry george has to say in kind of a general ray way and not signing on to a single tax. a lot of people liked the idea of a single tax and one of the groups that liked what he had to say were you are abe workers. most of these are landless people and pay huge amounts of money in rent for the tenements that they live in, so this message has resonance on different levels for different people. all right. so progress and poverty, written by a guy with a seventh grade education who self-publishes it to start, right? can't get anybody to buy t."harper's," no of the publishers will buy it and he's a printer and says, okay, i'm
going to borrow money from friend and i'll print an author "evening edition," self print it and send it back to the publishers and it works. sends one back to appleton, a huge publisher and said now that you've set the plate and it will make it very inexpensive for us let's do it and it's going to cause a stir. george moves to new york city because he knows, if you're a san francisco editor, the chances of having an impact are much, much smaller. come to new york where things are happening and also new york is the gate way-yard where american ideas go to europe and european ideas come to america and there's a chance this is a global phenomenon. works out perfectly and gets to new york city just the right moment when things are beginning to happen. one of those things is the irish nationalist movement is happening and he's not irish. his message has great resonance with the irish catholics, one of the largest ethnic groups in america and he finds this is kind of a great way to get noticed and to get speaking gigs and to find his first real
audience and also to get -- he becomes well known in great britain as a result of that. all right. show why does he appeal to workers? let's look at this, one of the many questions, when he rights his book he's thinking i'm going to wow everybody and the first real wore groups are the american workers and one of the main reasons is he challenges that fundament al understanding of poverty. poverty -- the traditional interpretation was that it's inevitable and can't do anything about it and those who are poor need to endure, it grin and bear it and their reward in help of will be great. that's sort of the old-fashioned way of dealing with it. it's easy to say that. it's not easy to hear that when you're the poor person. here's what one of the workers who became a big henry george follower and a key figure in his rise to influence and also his eventual run for mayor of new york city. he describes it very succinctly.
poverty and progress reversed all of this, teaching that poverty is an artificial condition of man's invention, and i love this last part. working men and women, learning all of this commenced to wrestle with their chains, right, and that's why there's some tumult here especially in new york. the period 1885, 1886 and 1887 is off called by historians the great upheaval because there's a huge spike in strikes. a lot of labor mobilization and in '86 and '87 a huge campaign of labor parties that form all across the country in protest to aig crackdown on labor and labor activism. in new york city in 1886 over in the summer of '86 in the wake of strikes and boycotts and sort of in the national atmosphere after the haymarket bombing in chicago in may of '86, 100 labor activists are arrested. many of them are given very long
prison terms for -- there was -- it was pretty easy to do that actually because they were accused of and tried and convicted of conspiracy, so if you -- if you call it the strike or call a boycott against an employer in the eyes of the law you were guilty of conspireing with your fellow workers to destroy the business of another person and so you could be put away. this is one of the big strikes that takes place. the street cars in new york city, the street cars which precede the subway system are privately owned and given franchises. they make millions of dollars a year. they bribe -- i have a great graphic that shows the new york city city council had 24 members in 1884, and there's a front page article in the "new york times" that shows when a scandal broke out to show that one of the largest street car owners bribed nearly every one of them. 22 of the 24 city councillors took a bribe -- huge bribe, $25,000, which in 1884 was a lot of money and their status, it
says, you know, thomas clancy third district fled the country, you know, and in jail, in jail, out on bail. i mean, it's just an incredible list of people and so the anger at the street car companies, they were terrible employers, and there's three big street car strikes in the spring of '86 that played and a lot of boycotts and a lot of other labor action that result in this big crackdown on labor, a lot of workers arrested, a lot of unions prosecuted and so forth and that sort of sets the stage for the labor response. labor is divided in the gilded age. should we form a labor party like they are doing in europe or should we try to influence the democratic party, you know. kind of withhold our support for one candidate or another. it's called the balance of power strategy, and -- and one of the reasons why they resisted labor parties is they always failed miserably, you know. there were labor parties before this, and a labor party candidate for mayor would get like 329 votes. that's it, you know. 500 votes, just a symbolic, so
it was a waste of time, waste of money and deeply embarrassing and it also divided the labor movement because people said this is why we shouldn't do this. let's stop and try to form a labor party. all the crackdown and turmoil in the summer of '86 leads even the most jaded person to say let's do it, and so the united labor party is formed, and they, you know, don't just grab any old carpenter or brick layer to run for mayor. they say we've got to get somebody who has some credibility, and henry george is perfect. he has this long record of being an advocate of workers' rights and of reform. he's also a card holding member. knights of labor, also a member of the typographers union and has a celledability that goes a long way to get people to nominate him. he's nominated in august of 1886 to run for mayor. the odds are, to say the least, pretty stacked against him. tamoney hall is a huge powerful machine and the republican party is equally formidable.
they have got money and experience and the workers have none of those things. here's an optimistic view of things though. henry george depicted as hercules, one of the more common pictur pictures. that's new york city city hall in the background. well, to do that he has to defeat two people. he has to defeat abraham hewitt, a congressman with a great deal of credibility and actually relatively speaking he can actually claim to be a friend of the working man. he authored some minor pro-labor legislation and actually was at least considered a pretty good employer in his iron works, so he -- he had an ability at least to claim that he was a pro labor candidate, and then there's this guy that people are just starting to learn about, a man named theodore roosevelt who left new york when his wife and mother died tragically and went
out and did his ranching thing and he had just come back to the city. looking to get back into politics, and -- and the republican party grabbed him and made him their candidate. now, you remember that image. knight on the horse with the lance pointing at the working man and pointing to subsidize the press. the press is 100%, as you can imagine, henry george and a vivid image from "puck." capable of publishing pro-labor cartoons and anti-labor cartoons week after week and notice this is not necessarily anti-labor. here you have the devil standing behind a worker saying don't be fooled. george has snake oil. he's got these great ideas and a cornucopia in the background dumping out free land, money, you know, that he's going to give these things away and so the way that the powers at be in the late 19th century tried to derail george, couldn't say
workers are stupid, right, because they need a worker's vote. they need to say workers you're being dideluded. don't be fooled by this wolf in sheep's clothing and a lot of that imagery and an image of the statue of liberty which was unveiled that fall. the statue of liberty sun veiled in october of 1886 and the election of 1886 takes place a few days later. our stat you've liberty can stand and around the statue of liberty are forces of communism and forces of socialism and forces of anachromism and forces of, as you can see in the -- in the blowup there, forces of georgism. they are lumping him in there, kind of tarring him with will that idea that he's right up there with the anarchists and violent insurrectionists. here's another tactic that they used that george will mobilize the tramp vote, the poor, and that we'll have social chaos so a tramp here is barginging into
a middle class family's to take food and blaming it on the tramp. no more waiting outside. we'll just have anarchy if guys like george are put in power and here's another cartoon showing abraham hewitt, clearly the hewitt cartoon. he's the locomotive and teddy roosevelt is hanging on there with his lasso and about to run over henry george. the title. book is not progress and poverty. it's how to prevent progress by henry george, so there's a big media mobilization against him, consistently characterizing george as either a -- you know, air headed dreamer and more and more as the election approached. if he'sy willed blood will flow in the streets of new york and all across the country. sounds lyle but which is what
mainline candidates like abraham hewitt why saying. george has lots to contend with as do his supporter. they do what's never been done before and established an incredible grass roots campaign. he goes to five dinners of the gives five little speeches and most -- george is out every night giving five, eight, seven, ten speeches in front of factories, in front of street car and so forth. it's never been done before and a real grass roots organization because they have nothing to lose and realize if they can get people to vote femight actually not win the election make a difference and lo and behold instead of 329 votes or 400 votes, george gets 68,000 votes. it's a close finish, but -- and it's a three-way race so we'll never know if george had run straight up against hewitt how
that might have. he outpoll ed. there's a lot of allegations that tamoney stole ballots and stuffed ballot boxes. the fact is we're never going to know. as i say in the book, we know that tam ho ney absolutely positively could have done it and they had done it in the past and were really good at it, but we just don't know if that in fact happened. but it certainly makes a big impression. of all the labor party candidates across the country, george is the one that people are watching. it's the one that, you know, frederick edgels and karl marx a writing letters back and forth saying who is this guy george? don't agree with him but seems to be pushing forward our agenda for the overthrow of capitalism and here's a great cartoon in the wake of jetform's defeat and
a pretty impressive defeat and looking pretty mighty and the quatation says we're nearly one against a splintered opposition and there's a real optimism coming of this election among george supporters and the labor movement nationally and locally. we could easily see a third party go national in a couple of years and run like in europe a true third party that would be an alternative to the mainstream parties that are in the hands of big business. and here's george on the eve of his -- this is his concession speech, and he basically says the future is others. this was buicker hill, right? bunker hill, the continentals were driven back but they symbolically won a victory which rebounded the world. they made -- they won a victory that made this a reality and thank god we are what makes the future of our republic future.
i wanted to name the book the future republic of the future. this is an evolution and we need to get back on track and adjust to the modern world of industry and technology and if we do it we can have a republic that will endure into the future. you can see that the attitude of the powers at be, the republican and democratic parties, were very, very terrified by this result, and, again, couldn't denounce workers for voting for george in such huge numbers so you see the same kind of patronizing tone here. nice job, very impressive, but you've got to get rid of that friend of yours and, of course, the friend support classic sim bowl of anarchy in the back. henry george, socialist, communist, you need to come back to the main street and big
adju adjustments are made post-election. they offer labor legislation and things this bring back the labor class into the republican party but mostly the democratic party. what's the legacy of henry george? at the moment. election everybody is thinking this is a big step, a big thing not just for us but for george. many are saying george is going to be president of the united states in a couple of years. just seems that that's the way in which the world is moving. the next year in 1887 the united labor party decides to contest elections, and it just falls apart and george breaks with them. there's a tremendous internal schism. fights with socialists. fights with the workers and so forth, and it's something i detail in one of the latter chapters of the book and try to explain why george seems to have changed his mind about being allied with the labor movement so closely as he was in 1886 and in the years before that and a lot of that has to do with that kind of red scare tactics. he read the writing on the wall
was clear. if you want any influence in this country after haymarket and the great upheaval you cannot be associated with socialism, communism, anachromism and he basically kind of gives the labor movement, the heisman, you know, and says, sorry, but i can't be associated with this anymore and it's tragic because it ends his -- his ascent essentially on that track. it's certainly over. he continues to be influential and continues to write books and, of course, his books are still in print to this y, but that aspect of george is leading an insurgent social movement. that is over, but george's influence is remarkable. he sort of fades from the scene but the number of people, and i list this all in the back of the book. literally dozens of people who you know very well, lincoln, stevans and lincoln reese and addages, a who's who list of progressive reformers, say in their memoirs and letters to their friends, you know what
really opened my eyes? somebody gave me a copy of "progress in poverty." it's an incredible number of people who found this book to be a the guy eye-opener and really set them on the path in the next generation that we call the progressive era. that's in some ways some of the biggest aspects of george's legacy and why he's worth knowing. i should also point out that most people don't know this but the game monopoly comes from henry george, not him directly, but one of his followers worked up a game which she called the landlords' game to demonstrate how easy it is and how pernicious it is for people to -- to monopolize resources and then to squeeze everybody out and put everybody out of business and make a long story short. the game kicked around for a while and then in the 1930s a guy essentially took the game, changed some of the words and changed the name and sold it to parker brothers so it's a bit of an irony there, sells it to big business and it's made the most popular board game in the world
and there's a book that came out and detailed the story and very few people -- remember in the '70s an anti-monbly game that came out which is funny because the original game was anti-monopoly. so what else about henry george? henry george, why is he important then and why is he important now? for one henry george explains in vivid, clear, understandable and in many ways certainly to his -- his supporters irrefutable evidence that extreme inequality threatens democracy, and we're -- as americans we -- there's certain terms and ideas that we love. what are our great republican ideals? freedom, individualism, justice, equality, but we're always a limb leery about equality. it's the one that makes us the most nervous. we like the idea but we don't necessarily like the way -- some. things that it tends to suggest, but george says, look, extreme inequality will destroy democracy, and we need to find wayed to limit extreme
inequality in order to preserve our democracy. it's that simple and it's an irreversible logs. if we lose our democracy it's not going to come back. a second key, and, of course, that has tremendous relevance and in the wake of citizens united and you need to be a multi-multi-millionaire or billionaire or congress for that matter is a real significant problem. the second point about the common good. george essentially reminds us, and we live in an age of suddenly ein rand is on the best-seller's list and more and more americans are calling themselves libertarians than i can remember as though liretarianism, individualism is the american way and the fact is it is part of the american way. going way, way back. there's no question that individualism is really central to our political culture and our political identity but so, too, is the common good, the idea that we're all in this together, and that we need to adopt laws and enact policies and do things
that attend to the common good, and you can be selfish about it, right, as people did in the 1830s, right, nothing in the constitution about education but in the 1830s we began as a country to say, you know, public education is both a good thing to do, you know, to provide people with the rudimentary education and also a really smart thing to do because we'll have less murderers and social turmoil and so on and so forth and george is reminding people in the gilding age that individualism is not the only ideal, that it's always excited side by side, in tension with, in conflict with and always there with individualism is the common good, and we need to remember that. i think that that's a really powerful ideas that needs to come back into our national conversations about everything, right? about health care and about education and about the environment because we get caught up in these other ideas of -- ideological extremes, and
we forget that some of these core principles are right there in front of us and one of them being the common good. and thirdly, the idea that the government, dare i say, the government that everybody seems to despise but, you know, as soon as you try to take away the government from people, people get very upset. they like having police officers and so far keeping order. the fact is that the government and not simple police the free argument is part of the solution is an idea that hen why i george plays a big role in convincing americans that that is the case. lacy fair made total sense in, a land of farmers and small shops it made sense and it no longer made sense and if the founding fathers were arrived they would agree. imagine a time if we could bring benjamin franklin into the late 1870s and what would he think?
he'd be amazed by the technology and aghast at the kind of poverty that was there, and he would be in favor of some kind of radical solution, and he says, you know, strong societies make adjustments. they need to make adjustments, and one of those adjustsments is at the people team power the government to do certain things, enact certain policy in the name. common good and in the name of -- i think those things are key to understand what happened at a fragile moment in the nation's history and why it matters now. so thank you very much. [ applause ] we do have time for questions. this evening is being filmed by c-span, and so they have asked that anybody asking questions so that this can be part of the program would come down to the microphones at the end of the walkway here so please anybody
has any questions, please -- please jump right up. i would love to hear them. >> thank you. that was a really good talk. >> thanks. >> what did henry george have to say, if anything, about immigration, because immigration was a very big issue at this time as well. >> right. the parallels with gilded age are not just about the economy and poverty and corporations, right. it's an era of tremendous wrangling about immigration and also an era in which there's a big movement to deprive people of the vote. a lot of parallels there. so george is a little bit complicated when it comes to immigration. his early days as a reformer and as a writer in california, he wrote some pretty blistering racist things about the chinese immigration, but that was, as anybody would tell you, it was sort of mainstream thinking at the time not to let him off the hook but to say that progressive -- i think it was -- i can't think of the historian, michael hazen wrote that i think
progressivism stopped with the chinese, could be progressive and draw the line but the chinese are exceptions. he was pretty harsh about chinese immigration, not immigration in general. gradually moved away from that quite explicitly by the time he wrote "progress and poverty." in some ways we need to address that both here and abroad, but he was a very tolerant person as far as immigration goes. he mostly saw -- if he wrote anything critical about immigration, it was mostly the fact that people were being forced to migrate as opposed to it being necessarily a social problem for the united states. >> there's a two-part question. the first is could you explain george's point about taxing land and that -- that central economic principle. >> yeah. >> the second is that "political order and political decay," he
argues the american government is so decentralized that it -- that it works against progress of any kind. >> mm-hmm. >> henry george seemed to think that there was a moral principle at work here, but structurally are our political system from the centralization to the wealthy having a significant edge in the way the constitution was designed, it makes reform, long-standing reform almost impossible. >> yeah, i -- so let's take the first question. i usually preface my conversations with people by saying, by the way, i'm a historian, not an economist so i have a little bit of trouble trying to explain george's economic theory, and george himself really never got too much into the details. for him it didn't need to make perfect sense.
land, especially land, deprives its because because of socially created wealth. if there's all this left-hand around us in new york city, just on wall street this morning, and it's 45, 55 broad street, an empty hole in the ground and i said to the western i was walking with how much is that piecech land worth. >> it's socially created wealth and probably worth their 1 billion. he said that wealth is generated by us, not the person who owns the land who was lucky enough to acquired it or screamed to get it. it's us, it's our energy and productivity and what we put in the market and what we take out. market and, therefore, that needs to be taxed for the common good. if a piece of proper, but you owe at the end of the years, if
you don't want to pie it, walk away. >> handed over to another person who is will to work it and pay that fee. >> it's more the proud ideas that be the specifics of that reform that really mattered to most people so that's question one. number two, our political system. we have a wonderful political system, but the question got to a really important point which is we do have a system very different from much of western europe and so one of the great epersonal questions in american history is why don't we -- why are we so different from other industrialize the societies where every you look there's a -- there's a lot of explanations given and one of them it's impossible to be form
a and it's a federal system and it's winner take all unlike a parliamentarian process and if you look at where a labor party and they begin no pain. there's the big throw the bums out election and suddenly they are a big part of a coalition and that simply doesn't happen in the united states. so -- and there are virtues to our system, too. states can work as laboratories of experiment, you know. . they used to say that about wisconsin in the progressive era where new ideas can be tried and then go national, but i think in terms of a real long standing structural change it does make it very, very difficult. >> i should be alternating. >> i'm addressing some of your discussion with some kind of long-term study of henry george which i do not think you
addressed adequately. i think your pictures and your history were lovely, but in fact you did not address the science of political economy which is probably the best book on political economy anybody has ever written, and -- and it's analysis of land, labor and capital, and the returns to them of rent, economic rent, wages and interest are -- are really ground breaking and have not been duplicated, and it is that i think because it requires some study that is always elated and everybody jumps on single tax and populism and not the basic material that makes henry george important and i think maybe a re-emphasis on that would be
desirable. >> all right. well, i think i'll take your point that i didn't talk much about his second book, "the signs of" actually his third book. i do talk about in my book for a couple of reasons. one is that he has the nightmare that all writers fear. he writes the book, of course, longhand, moves to brooklyn and can't find it when he gets there. loses the whole manuscript so he has to literally take his pen out and rewrite from notes and memory the entire book so it's one of those things -- in our day we'd be worried about a file disappearing from our hard drive or something. the reason i don't talk about that book too much is the focus of my book on henry george is that period where he's up to about 1887 where he's a key figure. the book comes out in 1886 and begins to make, you know, be part of the important george
cannon. it's not the one that creates his momentum and creates his national and eventually international profile. one thick we see with george he has a lot to say about a lot of things and he says political economy, what we would call economics. political economy has lost its way. it's in the service of power and it should be in the service of humanity so he's got a lot to say about that in that book and in other writings which accounts for the fact that even though he criticized the academy, he secretly sort of hoped to become a professor or at least have that kind of credibility on some level and was never going to get it because he was so critical of them. >> yeah. a lot of the people who henry george influenced seem to have ultimately very different critiques of capitalism and understanding of inequality and when you look at the welfare state in the 20th century, justifications, social citizenship for the maases or positive poverty for individuals, but the actual understanding of inequality and the source of it that henry
george veps, i'm not sure how much that survived or at least from what i understand so i'm curious about how his ideas about inowe quality may have influenced reformers in terms of trying to set up specific policies and what maybe his attitudes towards welfare -- the welfare state more generally might have been. >> he always said he was in favor of a small seat. sort of spoke both ways. there's a couple of things is that the state needs to be an instrument of reform. have you to do that, and the other one is emphasizing he's -- he's not the only one but really the first one and the first one to do it on a big stage to say citizenship in a republic is not confined to election day. that's -- you know, we always thought -- we're all equal, right? i'm equal and we're equal because each of us have one
vote. >> there's an economic dimension, a materiel dimension to citizen shop and without it your vote is worthless and so that's a concept that i think really influences broadly a lot of reforms in the progressive area and i have a whole collection of fdr quotes that literally sounds like he's quote ing "progress in poverty." he's articulating our core freedoms in that tumultuous period and one is freedom from want. that was couldn't version and people said how socialist can you get? he says exactly the same thing. if you do not -- people that don't have basic material needs met are the stuff of which dictatorships are made and, of course, he's saying that in the
earl e30s and '40s when he knows what dictatorships are all about. the said is an important instrument of reform and citizenship in the modern public has an economic dimension that you cannot ignore. >> yeah. regarding george's temporary arguments, and there's an argument that there isn't much we can do about economic inyou a equality due to globalization of trade and, therefore, neither party has a product call program that would reduce economic inequality and therefore we should give up reducing on economic inequality and focus on social inequality and try build strong public institutions, schools, parts, health care institutions that everyone can share but not focus so much on economic inequality because we can't really do anything about it. what do you think george would say about that and what do you think about that? >> i have, i mean, that's a really good point and i think
that -- i know exactly what george would say which is that my -- my reform scheme, the single tax, will bring those two things -- you'll get both, and this was -- with george the last book is very utopian and saying the tree representic. future, and he place -- in his writings we'll basically have a socialist society. not a revolutionary socialist society where they rise up and seize everything in the name of landowners and people and he sketches this out. he says in the near future we'll have a society where everybody has full employment and won't have that work that hard. there will be fabulous parks and libraries and forums for learning and this will be an ideal society so he thought you can do both. and then there's the social institutions that would benefit
everybody. he was a dreamer in that regard. >> what do you think about that? >> i don't know. i have to say -- in some ways that's a very utopian vision but i do believe, getting back to the points that i put up there at the end which is that we do need to keep as a society, as we have many times in the past, as the funding fathers did many times in the past, they have to think about the common good and think about what it is that we really care about and what the really fundamental approximate here and who is to blame? we nearer ear in a demagogic moment, where immigrants and people on welfare and such are being blamed when there are other people that could be pointed to. and it's social policy. you know, were -- we have -- where do these inequality statistics come from? where does this problem come from? it's traceable to various moments in our political history starting in the late 1970s. you can see what the tax rate was in 1955 when we were -- had
enjoyed incredible prosperity and a very, you know, reduced level of inequality, and you can see what it is in 1980, and then also this political culture of demonizing the government, as though it is this horrible institution. i don't like -- paying taxes is painful. but it is the stuff, the price we pay for life on this earth. and in this society. and so i don't know how we change that conversation, seems almost impossible, but i think that kind of conversation is -- i wouldn't want to be too dramatic and say it is the difference between success and failure, but i think it is -- if we're going to pull ourselves, put ourselves back in a more prosperous and generous and successful track as a republic, then that's really what has to take place. it is not going to happen if we just continue to argue about who is to blame and do nothing essentially or do only the wrong things.
>> my question is regards to what was henry george's view of imperialism and empire building? >> good question. let me think on that one for a second. i mean i think he -- one of the places he started to get attention is when he joined the irish nationalist movement because ireland was not an independent country at this time. they're trying to gain their independence but they're a colonized society. so in many ways he has very harsh things to say about colonialism, imperialism. because he sees it as this naked illegitimate land grab, resource grab by the powerful. sort of the haves and have-nots on a global scale. but he, you know, historically he talks rather glowingly about the heyday of the roman republic and of imperialism of that order. so i don't know -- there
probably is -- there probably are passages in his writings but not so much progress and poverty, but social problems which is his collection of essays. but i don't know. let's put it this way. i think he saw a host of other problems, like inequality, like social turmoil and strikes as things of that nature as far more dangerous and immoral than imperialism. and i think part of that, again, i'm thinking my way through this answer right in front of you. but i think part of it is that his time period of the 1870s, 1880s, the united states is acquiring alaska. it's acquiring -- it's getting into the imperialist game, but in a very, very small way, and it's not until the spanish american war that we really go all in. he might have talked about it in more abstract terms, but certainly didn't talk about it in u.s. terms.
i'm going alternate. yep? >> thank you so much. i see parallels between what you have spoken about and our current time. and i happen to be wearing a bernie sanders t-shirt. so my question is -- >> bernie sanders is certainly in the news. >> yeah. what do you think about not the media, but the computer, the conversation that we're having and his progress through to the common people? >> you mean in terms of bernie sanders' moment that is happening now? >> as a democratic candidate and as the future president of the united states. >> well, you know, it's an interesting question and i don't know how to answer it. i think bernie sanders is a very healthy -- his addition to the electorate is very healthy for our -- because he is bringing up and forcing conversations on things like inequality that
people would much rather talk about undocumented immigrants and in crazy terms than talking about inequality. but i don't know -- and bernie sanders certainly fits into a long tradition of this sort of populist tradition that does help move the conversation in particular directions. i don't know if bernie sanders will ever get nominated or elected, but another interesting thing about it is he has the -- he's brave enough to call himself openly a democratic socialist, and it does show, in some ways, the poverty of political imagination, that that's a deal breaker for people, without even understanding what that actually means. americans have long, way before henry george, decided socialism is an unadulterated evil and it's unamerican, yet throughout our history we have embraced many aspects of socialism that we would not want to live without. so i don't know. following bernie sanders with great interest, let's put it that way. >> near the beginning you made
the comment about history not repeating but perhaps rhyming. i was just curious. most of your conclusions were about similarities between this period and the gilded age. could you talk a little bit about perhaps what you see as differences between the gilded age and this period? >> well, let's see. horses. lots of things. i'm just thinking of, you know, what it was like to live in new york in the 1870s and 1880s. they are very different eras. there are some things that are utterly and completely different. technology. the way we communicate. the way our politics, our recreation, our politics and everything is so fundamentally different than what was taking place in the 19th century. in the 19th century, the late 19th century, the gilded age, if you wanted to communicate, you published something in a newspaper or a magazine, or you gave a public lecture. and that was really it. whereas now, it's so fragmented.
i don't even know how to -- to me, i would say born in 1963, so i remember typewriters and rotary phones. i've got one foot firmly planted in that world. yet i have an iphone and i use social media and i use computer technology all the time. so i would say that that is one of the gre differences. and what it means, i don't know. but it is one of the great differences. some people look at that and say that's where the great reform is going to take place. this kind of grass roots reform movement that can be done through people's iphones and social media. it's how we're going to get people to the polls. that's how we're going to shake things up to get politics out of the clutches of the hands out big business. i don't know. on the other hand, people say the other way of looking at it is people are just too busy looking at their screens, playing games and cat videos that they're not paying attention. they're upset, they're angry, but they're not paying attention. so i would say that that's probably the biggest difference. clearly lots of our economy is quite different.
our position in the world is quite different. our military is, you know, up until -- students are always fascinated to learn this. i say one of the things in the constitution and the founders were in absolute agreement on, no military, bare bones military. couple thousand people. that's it. because if you had a standing army, a military, that's how tyranny occurs and that's how democracies are done in. that's what history tells us. five ways to go to war as a society in the united states. five steps. first, declare war. second step is say oh, my gosh, we don't have a military. third step, build a military. fourth step, win the war. fifth step, dismantle the military, until the next war comes along. it's only after world war ii, which we dismantled our military and immediately built it back upstarting in 1950 starting with the cold war. that's another thing, when you look at where our resources go, and how we talk about that. that's another massive difference between then and now. >> in his writings on inequality
during the gilded age, did george discuss the end of reconstruction and the disenfranchisement of african americans? >> yes, he did. george didn't have a lot to say about racial equality, although he spoke in racial equality terms. but when he talked about reconstruction, he basically talked about it in only one way. which is you want to see the evidence and why land is so important. giving people freedom, back to this point earlier, citizenship requires material well-being. there's an economic dimension to it. so when enslaved people are granted their freedom and no land, guess what happens. they're going to be put into not slavery again, but something darn close to it, complete subordination, complete powerlessness for a long, long time. he spoke of these, a textbook example right under our nose about this very thing. that was the primary thing that he spoke about.
>> did henry george in any of his books address the role of warfare or war in the political economy of the united states? >> well, i think -- that's a good question. i need to think on that a little bit. i mean, i think george -- if i recall, he talks about warfare as being, you know, one of the options of an undemocratic government. what do governments do to avoid dealing with social problems? they declare war. and there are probably few other places where he talks about warfare. but i think i just in some ways anticipated that, because in 1879 when he writes his book, "progress and poverty," the american military is tiny. and the only place that it's big is out in the west completing the suppression of native americans. and even then it's not very many
people relatively speaking. so i think the military did not loom very large in people's minds. in the late 19th century. it will start to. right around 1880 is when we start to expand our navy. and we start getting certainly navy-wise, building it up in that regard was part of the notion of ourselves emerging as a global power. but i think the military -- i would say george would argue, as did most people in that time period, that the resources of power that we have to be worried about are these large business tycoons, these large corporations. because this is not just power. it's unelected, untouchable power. unless we do something about it. unless we decide in the name of the common good, in the name of democracy that we need to rein some of this power in. not eliminate it. not seize control of corporations. but find ways to set up some boundaries, some parameters for their behavior. >> all right. thank you very much, folks. [ apse