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Welcome to the New Gilded Age

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The New York Times has a must-read article on its front page today for all of you working folk who have been patiently waiting for manna from heaven. The article describes how we have entered a new Gilded Age where government becomes irrelevant, and the philanthropy of the super-rich will take care of the teeming masses. Indeed, the Times states that the super-rich are proud of the role they are playing in the new Gilded Age, creating vast wealth which they can someday trickle down upon the rest of us.

And who, in its inestimable wisdom, has the Times credited with helping usher in the new Gilded Age? Was it that old stalwart of conservatism, Ronald Reagan? No, in fact they credit Bill Clinton, the president who never missed a chance to deregulate big business, as a principal architect of the new gilded age. Mr. Clinton was the president who revoked the 2nd “Glass-Steagall Act” in 1999, legislation which was enacted in 1933 after the great depression. This legislation prohibited banks from being involved in both commercial and investment banking, and set up the Federal Deposit Insurance Company to insure customer deposits.

Elimination of this prohibition, along with a relaxation of anti-trust scrutiny, permitted American banks to merge and move into multiple sectors without regulation. This repeal is credited, in part, for letting the good times roll. The Times notes that not all economists are on-board with the repeal, and the deregulation. Arthur Levitt Jr., a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has publicly lamented the end of Glass-Steagall. Mr. Levitt was quoted as saying, “I view a gilded age as an age in which warning flags are flying and are seen by very few people,” referring to the potential for a Wall Street firm to fail or markets to crash in a world of too much deregulation. “I think this is a time of great prosperity and a time of great danger.”

Talk about raining on the parade! Mr. Levitt obviously needs to get with the program. Corporate CEOs are now worth hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars, and they swear they are not going to take it with them. Honest. They are all going to become philanthropists and give it back to the little people who toiled under them for so long. Considering that many of these guys are already in their 40s or 50s, and some even in their 60s, we only have a few more decades to wait before all the trickling down begins.

In the meantime, we can revel in their continuing generosity as they, for example, refurbish Carnegie Hall. It was getting so run down after all. There is nothing worse than going to the opera in a rundown theater!

Note to teeming masses: get out the popcorn and plop down in front of the tube. It won't be long now before the new Gilded Age culminates, and then rains riches down upon your head, like manna from heaven. Oh lucky you.

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John R. Moffett PhD is a research neuroscientist in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Moffett's main area of research focuses on the brain metabolite N-acetylaspartate, and an associated genetic disorder known as Canavan disease.

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