The comedian Chris Rock once said, “If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” Populist revolts throughout the world may not count as street riots, but they do reflect disenchantment with not just our government but also liberal democracy itself.
In the past two decades, growth rates in the United States have fallen to half of what they were in the middle of the 20th century. The share of income accruing to the top 1 percent has nearly doubled since the 1970s, while the share of income going to all workers has fallen by nearly 10 percent.
These are the marks of our new Gilded Age. It’s tempting to blame impersonal market forces such as globalization and automation for widening inequality. But the true villain would be familiar to anyone who lived through the previous one: market (that is, monopoly) power.
The great monopolies of that period — Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, the sugar trust, the financial and railroad interests — used their power to corrupt the economy and politics. Market power both reduces growth and increases inequality. Recognizing this, leaders put into place antitrust and worker protection laws.
Today, market power takes new forms, but the solution is the same: antimonopoly laws and laws protecting workers, but updated for the problems of the 21st century. [Continue reading…]