In the late 1860s, the United States of America was recovering from the ravages of the civil war that had afflicted it from the early 1860s. The aftermath of the war was an economic growth so rapid that it was regarded the greatest in American history. In addition, a rapid technological development was realized in the two decades between 1870 and 1890. Contemporary writers Mark Twain and Charles Warner referred to this period of great changes as the gilded age, an era of great prosperity that favored a few individuals. The term “Gilded Age” is a comical altercation of the phrase “golden age” that implies that America was experiencing a period of tremendous prosperity. The Americans, from then onwards, adopted this reference to the era. In today’s United States of America, a new gilded age seems to have emerged because of the imbalance in the democracy’s structure and in the sharing of the prosperity that the post world war America has enjoyed.
During the gilded age, the political scene changed from a conservative nature to a liberal mode. The democrat leadership of the time advocated for the liberalization of the market with less trade barriers to encourage growth. Democracy developed considerably at that time more than any another did. More people voted in the elections of that time. However, the allocation of resources became a partisan exercise. The winning party obtained a significantly large percentage of the resources. The numerous government contracts were awarded partially to companies due to the corruption that was significantly gaining popularity during this era.
Moreover, the social life experienced considerable changes during the gilded age. A considerably large number of immigrants started arriving in the United States with the people of the oriental background being the majority of the immigrants. Immigration from Europe was also evident. They brought along new technology. It is during this time that women clamored for a better representation in the government. They rallied for a more democratic representation in the government.
Tycoons, such as John D. Rockefeller, a petroleum business mogul, and Thomas Edison, the founder of the giant General Electric, started emerging because of overt capitalist ideology. One of the advocates of a life of moderate material endowment, P.T Barnum, stated that a quality and good life is only achievable through the possession of moderate wealth (Barnum, 330). Andrew Carnegie, another writer, compares the life of a millionaire to a shylock’s life (Carnegie 336).
The new gilded age has been characterized in the political success of the Republican Party. Its success can be attributed to the support for the party from the wealthy families. In addition, the ignorance of the majority of the disadvantaged voters was an advantage to the party. Misconceptions concerning the appropriate economic policies have made the Republican Party popular among the Americans. The recent tax cut among the high-income earners by the Bush administration has increased the disparities in income distribution. The gap between the middle and the upper income earners in terms of the net annual income is significantly becoming evident. The relatively high income of the middle class families has created misconceptions that indicate a balanced distribution of wealth. However, the plights of the low-income earners, who are literally poor when the current cost of living is considered, are ignored by economic policies. While the rich and middle class American families’ growth rates have been significantly high in the last fifty years, the families at the extreme bottom have experienced an insignificant increase in the growth rate. This disparity seems to contradict the logical aim of most governments to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.
Another aspect that alludes to a modern gilded age is the lack of opportunities for the poor people to overcome their current economic predicament. On the other hand, the same economic policies keep the rich unreasonably galvanized from any economic downfall (Foner 351). The lack of wealth mobility between the rich and the poor misrepresents the intended purpose of the capitalist ideology (Barnum 330).
The situation in today’s America can be related to the Gilded Age due to the striking similarities of the two eras. Several aspects of today’s society are comparable to the events and developments of the old America of the 19th century despite the disparity in the chronology of events. Several aspects of the 19th century America can be observed in today’s society indicating that only a significantly minimal change has occurred to the basic thinking of the Americans. This implies that events have cycled back to the same position that they were in over a century ago. However, this new gilded age features different social settings and immense technological advancements.
On the economic front, evidence of the gilded age can be cited as the great strides that have been taken in developing engineering to its zenith. In this new gilded age, the rapid metamorphosis of the communication industry and the power and innovation evident in electronic gadgets is comparable to the advancement of mechanical technology during the gilded age. Over the past two decades, a sophisticated digital technology in all aspects of electronic engineering has replaced the elementary analogue electronics technology. Software development has transformed America and the whole world at large into a single closely-knit society with gradually fading cultural and racial boundaries (Bartels 5). The means of documentation have changed from bundles of papers and files to virtual documents on digital screens. Most Americans and the majority of the people around the world own a personal communication device, which often has the capabilities of browsing the internet. This is similar to the possession of gadgets such as the sewing machine by the majority American families during the gilded age.
Political similarities also depict a state similar to the gilded age. In the United States, after a reign of military culture and the intense conservative inclination of the republicans, the democrats have been reelected to the government where they have championed radical changes such as moderate military activity and increased democratic participation. A spirit of liberal existence has emerged among the Americans in the last few years owing to the transition of government leadership from the republicans to the democrats (Bartels 11). A historical transformation of the American politics has occurred with the election of the first African-American president. The use of the technique of tainting personalities and parties to gain political advantage has also recurred. The accusations towards the preceding republican government for getting America into a costly war and the propagation of negative conservative politics can be compared to the campaigns of the nineteenth century politics where the republicans claimed that the democrats had caused the occurrence of the costly civil war.
The similarities of social behavior of the today’s Americans and their ancestors’ of one and half century ago are clearly visible. In the last two decades characterized by the expansion and advancement of communication infrastructure, immigration to the United States by people from different, but less developed parts of the world has been witnessed. Immigration from the first world countries of Europe has also increased significantly to resemble closely the immigration pattern witnessed in the nineteenth century. The only visible difference between the earlier immigrations and today’s immigrations is that the purpose of the majority of today’s immigration is to seek further education while the earlier immigration was meant to seek better employment opportunities. However, a significant proportion of modern immigrants seek to work in America. Campaigns for the equality of women in all aspects of the society have been executed with moderate success. Recently, there have been demands by women’s activists that the party that forms the government should include a reasonable number of women as senior government officials. This is evident from the appointment of a woman as the secretary of state in most of the governments in the recent past. Americans are also clamoring for a more free society and in this regard are denouncing modern imperialism just as they did during the gilded age. The considerably liberal society and the free market policies have led to the emergence of prominent capitalist icons (Bartel 15). The growth of giant corporations such as Microsoft which are largely owned by one person bear similarity to the companies of the gilded age where large industries were owned by immensely wealthy individuals. This illustrates that an overt capitalistic attitude towards the economy is recurring among the American people.
The gilded age seems to present a kind of a recurrent nature. A period of success is experienced during which people are either busy creating wealth or building their nation. During this period, people acknowledge the efforts required to build a successful society. However, the succeeding generation does not have to struggle to maintain the wealth of their predecessors thriving. They thus loose the wealthy glamour they originally had and are suppressed into recesses of poverty or poor performance. The succeeding generation then takes the mantle with the experience gained because of poverty and works its way to prosperity and wealth. These people can then afford to offer their children the treatment that their fathers were offered. This results to a cyclic phenomenon (Carnegie 335). The nature of the gilded age seems to be a period during which the unfortunate ancestors of today’s Americans built a wealthy society. When they passed on, their offspring inherited their wealth. Then, a period characterized by war and destruction of the early and middle 20th century in America prevailed. The children who grew up during this era of numerous challenges embarked on rebuilding the America that once was in the 19th century. After this generation, another destructive generation of the young people who have grown in the prosperity of the late 20th century has started emerging. The writer, Carnegie, condemns the luxurious life of the people with relative wealth and emphasizes on the virtue of sharing. Carnegie advocates for a society that will establish a reasonable gap between the rich and the poor.
Although the United States has experienced an averagely steep economic and structural growth recently, the benefits that accompany the economic growth benefit the rich. In addition, the political environment favors the propagation of extremely selfish policies that take care of only the rich and the middle class. The significantly large number of the poor people is ignored without any serious political implications due to their ignorance of the relationship between their economic problems and the political situation. The suppression of the poor by the government and the failure of the low-income people to realize that everybody, both the poor and the wealthy, is entitled to equal opportunities in a capitalist system have contributed to the poor wealth mobility and the lack of opportunities for the poor. In this essence, the current economic fortune, political orientation of the majority of Americans and disparities in the distribution of wealth and opportunity depict a modern age gilded age