comments_image Comments

7 Signs America Has Regressed Back To the Harsh, Cruel 19th Century

We think we’re in the 21st century, but all the signs suggest we’re living in an earlier and harsher era.

Tea Party Republicans long for the days when there were no government authorities to enforce laws and restrain the power of unchecked wealth, the days when there was no Justice Department, no SEC, no other agencies protecting Americans from the misdeeds of bankers and corporate titans. But it already seems as if our entire country has secretly been transported back in time. We may think we’re living in the 21st century, but all the signs suggest we’re living in an earlier and harsher era.

Here are seven signs the United States of America has returned to the 19th century.

1. Wall Street can “send your man around to see my man” again.

Shocked by newly elected President Teddy Roosevelt’s moves against Wall Street, J. P. Morgan went to the White House. "If we have done anything wrong,” said Morgan, “send your man to my man and they can fix it up."

"That can't be done," said Roosevelt. "We don't want to fix it up," his Attorney General added, "we want to stop it." The year was 1902, and 19th-century privilege was over for Wall Street. Now it’s back, and so are the “men”—and as the recent foot-dragging over female Fed chair candidate Janet Yellen highlights, they almost always are men.

The chief architects of deregulation in the 1990s included Sen. Phil Gramm, President Bill Clinton and Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. That deregulation cost millions of Americans their jobs and millions more their life savings. But the parties behind it did just fine.

Gramm went to work for UBS bank immediately upon leaving the Senate in 2002, and is now vice-chairman of its investment banking division. Robert Rubin eventually headed up Citigroup, the megabank whose creation was made possible when his Treasury Department pushed for a then-illegal merger between Travelers and Citibank. Rubin was to become deeply implicated in the fraud and scandal which led to the 2008 crisis, although he claimed ignorance of his own bank’s doings and never faced prosecution.

Larry Summers has made millions from Wall Street banks. Bill Clinton made tens of millions “advising” two investment funds belonging to billionaire Ron Burkle. Exactly how much isn’t known, but a very public  falling out involved Burkle’s alleged “stiffing” of Clinton on a final $20-$25 million payment. Clinton went on to serve as an advisor of Teneo Capital until February 2012.

Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs was George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary. Barack Obama’s first Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, is now collecting  huge fees on Wall Street. Obama’s second Secretary, Jack Lew, was an executive at Citigroup. His former economic advisor, Peter Orszag, has traded places with Lew and is now at Citigroup. Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, broke the Democratic mold by working at JPMorgan Chase.

White House visitor logs, which are  woefully incomplete, show that  Wall Street’s top dogs were frequent guests, especially at the height of the bank bailout. Despite massive fraud and tens of billions in fines and settlements, not one senior banker has been indicted for the crimes which brought down the economy.

Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy has been undone. Bankers can “send their man" to see the president’s man—and he's frequently the same man.

2. Workers aren’t unionized.

The horrors of working life during the Industrial Revolution led to the rise of the American union, beginning in the year 1860. The US State Department estimates that 3 percent of the workforce belonged to a union by the close of the 19th century. That number rose to roughly 7 percent by 1930, and to more than one worker in four by 1954.

See more stories tagged with: