Historian Richard White

The Gilded Age was an era of incredible wealth and innovation, but also crushing poverty, government corruption and broken promises to former slaves and Native Americans. Richard White’s new book, “The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age,” dissects this era of contradictions and what it means for present-day inequality and populism.

Richard White,
professor of American history, Stanford University; author, “The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896”

Richard White on America’s Gilded Age … and How it’s Echoed Today 8 November,2017Michael Krasny

  • Noelle

    I wonder why the Koch Brothers and their ilk seem to want to return to The Gilded Age? Unrestrained profit-making and power?

    • William – SF

      Because they think they are smarter and more deserving than any other. …And Daddy did a job on them.

  • Ehkzu

    The historical figure today’s Republican Party owes the most to is not one of the Framers–it’s John Wilkes Booth.

  • Ben Rawner

    What role did immigration to United States play in the constant growth? Were there different places that particular immigrant groups moved to?

  • ed

    The total shift of wealth in the U S since Reagan time was totally created by the cult of university of Chicago follower of the prophet of doom, Leo Strauss followers, lead by Milton Friedman and his Wall Street gang and their voodoo economics, Reaganomics and trickle down garbage.

    • William – SF

      And now DJT’s administration’s resurrection of the laughable Laffer curve as practiced by and profoundly proven wrong by Kansas.

      • Noelle

        Sometimes I despair about lack of rationality in many people…the Reagan worshippers and anti-tax crusaders who think cutting taxes will solve everything and we will all magically become wealthy entrepreneurs.

        • William – SF

          Why would someone that thinks that way while benefiting from that kind of thinking not want to think that way? I do believe they only care that they benefit from it. It aligns with their desire to eliminate government services and social programs while expanding property (i.e. wealth) protections. I think that’s the truth that isn’t said out loud.

  • marte48

    I have often observed that the far right and the far left have the same complaints, but blame completely different things for them.

    • Ehkzu

      Political ideology gives simple, wrong answers to complex societal issues, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken. The answer vary but the wrongness doesn’t.

  • James R

    What is Richard White’s opinion of how reconstruction would have been different if Lincoln wasn’t assassinated?

    • Ehkzu

      He said he thought it wouldn’t have made any difference, because of what happened after Lincoln’s VP left office, in the late 1860s–1870s.

  • Robert Thomas

    Can Professor White comment on the astonishing diaries of Rutherford Hayes, which provide a contemporary window onto the period and include penetrating critique not only of events of the day but of his own deeds and thoughts, including on the consequences of his complicity in “the Great Betrayal” as a condition of his election in 1876?

    Hayes’s observations are revealing:

    “December 4. [1887] Sunday.–In church it occurred to me that it is time for the public to hear that the giant evil and danger in this country, the danger which transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a few persons. Money is power. In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, in the courts, in the political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles of the educated and the talented, its influence is growing greater and greater. Excessive wealth in the hands of the few means extreme poverty, ignorance, vice, and wretchedness as the lot of the many. It is not yet time to debate about the remedy. The previous question is as to the danger–the evil. Let the people be fully informed and convinced as to the evil. Let them earnestly seek the remedy and it will be found. Fully to know the evil is the first step towards reaching its eradication. Henry George is strong when he portrays the rottenness of the present system. We are, to say the least, not yet ready for his remedy. We may reach and remove the difficulty by changes in the laws regulating corporations, descents of property, wills, trusts, taxation, and a host of other important interests, not omitting lands and other property.”

    Diary and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes, V IV, p354

    • William – SF

      What I take away from this is that the evil has won.

      • Ehkzu

        As it had won in Hayes’ days, and in the 1920s. But each time shortsighted greed and rapacity lead to huge economic disruptions, which give us a chance to displace money’s eager and tireless minions in the halls of power. And then the struggle begins anew.

        Thus the Great Republican Recession gave us Obama. What worries me is that it didn’t give us the sight of the engineers of that recession in prison cells next to their peer Bernie Madoff–who was a piker next to them, if truth be told.

        Only when rich people know they’ll do time will they hesitate to go at it again.

        • William – SF

          And given the revelations from the Paradise Papers, evil will find a way.

      • Robert Thomas

        Capitalism will cook your food and warm your house but it will also burn it down, if left unsupervised. A principal error in human thinking is that institutions can be inaugurated that will sustain themselves in passive equilibrium after any disturbance, the way a jostled marble in the bottom of a bowl returns to the bottom of the bowl by itself. What we see is that even the strongest institutions and organizations are – at best – generally in unstable equilibrium as they serve us, as a marble is on top of a bowl that’s been turned upside down. The marble is placid only as long as we are wary and actively tend it. Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for a lot of things, not just personal freedom.

        • Whamadoodle

          I think that we Americans simply make very bad police. With exceptions, we are, for the most part, just very uncomfortable being strict with people and laying down rules for them. We are happier leaving people free to do what they will. This is laudable to some extent, and it puts the “liberal” (and therefore the success) in liberal economic systems. However, paradoxically, it also leaves abusers free to destroy that very same system that gave them their power and money. They are happy to do so. Few are the business leaders who voluntarily relinquish the chance to enact a monopoly, cut thousands of jobs and destroy their town to get a bigger bonus, or the like.

          Those at the top have gone insane for power and money, and they never feel that any amount of either is enough, nor do they scruple to make any number of Americans, foreign people, or the American system itself, suffer in their pursuit of it.

    • Robert Thomas

      A week later…

      “December 10. [1887] Saturday.–I read an article on the labor question in the National Baptist, December 8, which set me to thinking of the unfair advantages given to the very wealthy in the practical administration of the laws. Is this not true — That in proportion to the value of their estates the extremely wealthy pay far less taxes than those of moderate means? Compare the amount paid by millionaires with the amount paid by ordinary citizens. I believe that in proportion to their estates they pay less than half as much as ordinary citizens, whereas they ought to pay more.”

      Ibid. pp. 355-356


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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