A Second Gilded Age? Historical Parallels, Differences, Lessons

Conference Schedule

Keynote Address
9:30 - 10 AM

Although there is much debate about the causes of economic inequality today, no one contests the fact or scale of it. So why question the idea of a "second Gilded Age"? Because if we are to learn from history, we must also remember that "the past is a different country." The differences between each period, in other words, may be just as important as the similarities. Steve Fraser, the author of multiple works analyzing the culture, economic life, and politics of both late 19th. and late 20th c. America, kicks off the daylong conversation, comparing the eras.

Steve Fraser is a historian, writer and editor, and has taught at Columbia University, Princeton University, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania. His first book, Labor Will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor, examines the relationship between the New Deal and the modern labor movement. His later works, including Wall Street: America's Dream Palace and Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life, explore the ways American society and culture reacted to the rise of powerful economic concentration. Most recently, he is the author of The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, The Limousine Liberal: How an Incendiary Image United the Right and Fractured America, and Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion.

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Panel 1: Comparing the Economic Sources of Inequality, Then and Now
10:15 - 11:45 AM

Although our time is characterized by levels of economic inequality similar to the Gilded Age, the market forces shaping this inequality are not so easily compared. Considering all the differences between the domestic and global economy of the late industrial period and our contemporary world, does it even make sense to draw parallels between the eras? Or might our diagnosis of the present benefit from a longer view? This panel will identify and contrast the economic, or market-based, dimensions of the crisis in each period to answer the question of whether this is a "second Gilded Age."

  • (Moderator) Janet C. Gornick is Professor of Political Science and Sociology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She also serves as Director of the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality and the Director of the U.S. office of the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), a cross-national data center which serves a global community of researchers, educators, and policy makers. Professor Gornick has been associated with LIS for over twenty-five years, having served as the organization’s Director from 2006-2016.

  • Suresh Naidu is Associate Professor in Economics and International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. The author of numerous articles, and a referee for many leading professional journals, his research includes the economic effects of political transitions, the history of slavery and labor institutions, and international migration.

  • Paul Krugman is Distinguished Professor of Economics at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and Distinguished Scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center. The sole recipient in 2008 of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade theory, and one of the founders of the "new trade theory," he is author or editor of twenty-seven books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes. Since 1999, he has been as op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

  • Devin Fergus is Distinguished Professor of History and Black Studies at the University of Missouri. Co-editor of Columbia University Press's series on "The History of U.S. Capitalism," he is the author most recently of Land of the Fee: Hidden Costs and the Decline of the American Middle Class (2018), and currently writing a book on white-collar crime and the racial wealth gap. Prof. Fergus has presented research to a number of federal entities, including the U.S. Treasury and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, worked closely with several national policy organizations, such as Demos and Prosperity Now, and written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Guardian.

  • Rosanne Currarino is Associate Professor of History at Queen's University, where she studies the economic, intellectual, and cultural history of nineteenth-century America. Her book The Labor Question in America: Economic Democracy in the Gilded Age (2011) examines diverse efforts to redefine the parameters of democratic participation in the late industrial United States. Her new project, "Orange Grove Capitalism: Imagining the Modern American Economy, 1870-1910," looks at southern California’s early orange growers (the men and women who eventually formed Sunkist) in order to reconsider how we understand the corporatization of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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Panel 2: Comparing the Political Sources of Inequality, Then and Now
1:15 - 2:45 PM

Popular conception draws a sharp line between the private and public sector. But historians know that government has always been deeply involved with the creation and life of markets. So, what are the non-market sources of economic inequality during the "first" and "second" Gilded Age, and how do they compare? Does the polarization of income and wealth in each period, for example, reflect the unavoidable nature of capitalism, or simply policy choices, and undemocratic forces in the electoral-legislative system? This panel examines the political dimensions of the crisis in the late industrial era and our contemporary age.

  • (Moderator) Julia Ott is Associate Professor of History at The New School, and the author of When Wall Street Met Main Street: The Quest for an Investors’ Democracy, winner of the 2011 Vincent DeSantis Prize for the Best Book on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Business World, Majority Report with Sam Seder, Bloomberg, Who Makes the Cents?, The Nation, Dissent, and Public Seminar, as well as BBC, NPR, C-SPAN, and PBS. She is co-editor of Columbia University Press's series on "The History of U.S. Capitalism," and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

  • Kimberley S. Johnson is Professor of Social & Cultural Analysis at New York University, where her research focuses on the intersections between American political development, urban and metropolitan politics, federalism and intergovernmental relations, race and ethnic politics, bureaucracy and public policy. She is the author of Reforming Jim Crow (2010) and Governing the American State (2006), and currently working on a new book, "The Rise and Fall of Chocolate City: Oakland, Newark, and the Future of Metropolitan America," exploring the changing demographic shifts of America's inner cities and their impact on local and national politics.

  • Thomas Ferguson is Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Senior Fellow at Better Markets, and Director of Research Projects at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. The author or coauthor of several books, including Golden Rule (1995) and Right Turn (1986), he is considered a founder of the "investment theory" of American politics. His articles have appeared in many scholarly journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Economic History. He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Political Economy and a longtime Contributing Editor at The Nation.

  • Kay Schlozman is Endowed Professor of Political Science at Boston College, and co-author of The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy, The Private Roots of Public Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics, Organized Interests and American Democracy, and Injury to Insult: Unemployment, Class and Political Response. Winner of numerous awards, and chair of the American Political Science Association's section on Elections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior, she is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

  • Kim Phillips-Fein is an Associate Professor at New York University, where she teaches American political, business, and labor history. She is the author of Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (2009) and Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics, a Pulitzer finalist, in addition to several essay collections and professional journal articles in such venues as Reviews in American History and International Labor and Working-Class History. A contributing editor to Labor: Studies in Working-Class History in the Americas, she has also written widely for the public, contributing frequently to The Nation, London Review of Books, and New Labor Forum.

  • Jeffrey Broxmeyer is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at The University of Toledo, where his current research explores office-holding practices in U.S. political development, with a focus on wealth accumulation by party leaders during the late nineteenth century. His first book, "Electoral Capitalism: The Party System In New York's Gilded Age" is under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Panel 3: Comparing Reform and Resistance, Then and Now
3 - 4:45 pm

If this is a second Gilded Age, what lessons should we draw from the first? Recently, for example, scholars have argued that we might do far better to adopt the solutions that Progressives offered to deal with the Gilded Age, such as monopoly-busting or public ownership, against the more familiar prescriptions of the New Dealers. So, which reforms are most "usable" from our past, and what new policies might we have to create for today's unique conditions? More importantly, perhaps, are there lessons to be drawn about the kind of social movements or electoral reform that may be needed to enact these policies, or do today's problems require different approaches? We end the day's conversation by shifting the debate from analysis to solutions.

  • (Moderator) Joshua B. Freeman is Distinguished Professor of History at Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY. His books include Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World, American Empire, 1945-2000: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home, Working-Class New York: Life and Labor since World War II; and In Transit: The Transport Workers Union in New York City, 1933‑1966. He has received the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award, the New York Society Library Book Prize, the John Commerford Labor Education Award, and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

  • Elisabeth Clemens is Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, where her research explores the role of social movements and organizational innovation in political change. Her first book, The People's Lobby: Organizational Innovation and the Rise of Interest Group Politics in the United States, 1890-1925, received awards in both organizational sociology and political sociology. She is co-editor of Private Action and the Public Good (1998), Remaking Modernity: Politics, History and Sociology(2005), Politics and Partnerships: Voluntary Associations in America's Past and Present (2010), and the journal Studies in American Political Development. She is now completing a book tracing the tense but powerful entanglements of benevolence and liberalism in the development of the American nation-state.

  • K. Sabeel Rahman is President of Demos, "a think-and-do tank committed to advancing policy and social change on issues of racial justice, democracy, and inequality," and Associate Professor of Law (currently on leave) at Brooklyn Law School. Previously a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and a Fellow at New America, he is the author of Democracy Against Domination (2017), which examines how democratic ideals fueled reform movements in the Progressive Era, and their implications for post-financial crisis debates about economic inequality. He is currently at work on a book exploring new approaches to organizing, power, and institutional reform in the present crisis of American democracy.

  • Joseph Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia, and the recipient of both a Nobel Prize and Clark Medal. He is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and is a former member and chairman of the (US president's) Council of Economic Advisers. The recipient of more than forty honorary degrees, and decorated by several governments, he was named by Timemagazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is known for his support of Georgist public finance theory and for his critical view of the management of globalization, of laissez-faire economists ("free market fundamentalists"), and of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.

  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor* is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, and the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, winner of the 2018 Lambda Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction. Dr. Taylor is currently completing a manuscript titled "Race for Profit: Black Homeownership and the End of the Urban Crisis," which looks at the federal government's promotion of single-family homeownership in black communities after the urban rebellions of the 1960s.

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*Cancelled due to last-minute emergency

This daylong conference is a joint venture, hosted in partnership with the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, co-sponsored by the history departments at The Graduate Center and George Mason University, and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University, and presented with The Stone Center on Socioeconomic Inequality and The Society for History of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.