A rising question in today's growing yet unpredictable economy is whether or not we are living in a modern Gilded Age. In other words, are we living in another superficially prosperous era where wealth, when you look closely, isn't as appealing as it may seem?
The first Gilded Age, that ranged from the 1860s to the end of the 19th century, was characterized by a "laissez-faire" economy and the rise of big business. Immigration and unions were on the rise as well. However, many argue throughout the years that the economy in Gilded Age wasn't truly laissez faire. The government would send in U.S. military to break apart labor unions and strikes; a truly "laissez-faire" economy would let the labor issues work themselves out amongst the workers and businesses. Instead, the government's preference of big business was clear, giving great subsidies towards railroads and, in the case of strikes, siding on the side of more money and monopolies.
Today, now that big business has "risen," what has changed and what has stayed the same?
In modern times, the ethic of individualism, or the practice adopted by many affluent businessmen and companies of working for their own prosperity without regard for that of others, so prominent in the Gilded Age still protrudes through today's society. The same superficial race to prosperity and companies' surface level attempts to manipulate productivity to satisfy their greed for money is still prevalent today. Government still sides with big business for its own prosperity in attempts to see economic growth, and small businesses are being wiped out in the face of large corporations.
Those with more money are consistently put on a pedestal, preferred over those with more morality and legitimacy. The Trump empire is sought after, popular, and a large portion of the American image. Many come each year from parts around the world to visit the Trump hotels, businesses, and resorts and bask for a small amount of time in the physical opulence around them. But, beneath the surface, as most of today's affluent families and empires, lies corruption, tax fraud, and lies.
Another example is Walmart and its monopolizing practices, specifically its evasion of having to pay even their full-time workers more than minimum wage and more than 32 hours a week. This allows them to dodge being forced to provide them with healthcare benefits. This corporate socialism is plaguing workers who, because of it, are in need of public housing, healthcare, and food. Big businesses, with enough money to pay their workers, are stooping to providing bare sustenance in order to manipulate their profits and productivity.
This propagates the Gilded Age idea of superficiality lying behind a mask of wealth and monetary success. It goes to Gilded Age families and businesses like J.P. Morgan, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and many others (including many coal corporations) that were monopolizing industry through corporate socialist practices in attempts to gain maximum productivity and, as a result, maximum profits.
During that time, the corruption and poor treatment surfaced through labor unions and the publishing of the mistreatment of workers/overpowering management mainly through protests and strikes, both of which were struck down with government interference and management superiority.
Today's empires and corporations continue to promote the strict social inequalities and classes that began to plague American society during the Gilded Age, creating clear, physical separations between the rich and their mansions, buildings, and corporations, and the poor. Instead of working towards a greater economy and overall prosperity for all, corporations only focus on the management's success, enforcing strict economic growth for the wealthy and static or declining growth for those less fortunate or successful.