Published: April 21, 2016
This semester’s Henry George Lecture was given by Edward T. O’Donnell, Ph.D., a history professor and author of the book “Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality in the first Gilded Age.” Most semesters the Henry George Lecture is given by an economic or finance professor who is at the forefront of research in inequality.
O’Donnell believes that even though he is a history professor, it is important for him to study such economic issues, because according to him, “economics is rooted in history.” The lecture had two focuses; the gilded age with respect to Henry George and whether we are in the second Gilded Age.
The Gilded Age was a period at the end of the 19th century in the United States when we experienced economic growth that was never before seen. O’Donnell pointed out that this economic boom was not felt by everyone. The Gilded Age was dominated by Social Darwinism, the belief that those who live in poverty are there because they were not fit to survive in that society.
This created widespread poverty throughout the country and terrible working conditions for the average person. This is where and when Henry George steps in. His book “Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions” was one of the most influential books of the time. It proposed that the free market was not helping workers and the government needed to step up and help. Although Henry George was not able to fix the extreme income inequality of his time, many influenced by his book went on to fix this problem.
O’Donnell and others believe that we are living in the second Gilded Age. He cites that the top 1 percent in 2010 controlled 34.5 percent of the nation’s wealth and rising today. This is not far off from 1890 or the height of the Gilded Age, when they controlled 51 percent of the nation’s wealth. O’Donnell believes, like George, that the government must step in to help create equality once again in the U.S.
A student, Matthew Prendergast, said that “Doctor O’Donnell offered a unique perspective of income inequality.” Iordanis Petsas, Ph.D., said it was “fortunate to have a historical perspective of Henry George’s ideas,” and that O’Donnell was “able to answer different questions (not just dealing with history).” Petsas was also delighted with the number of students who attended the event.
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