The outlines of this new epoch are clear in numerous ways. There is the diminished role for small business, greater concentration of financial assets, and a troubling decline in home ownership. On a cultural level, there is a general malaise about the prospect for upward mobility for future generations.
Not everyone is suffering in this new age. For the entitled few, these have been the best of times. With ever more concentration of key industries, ever greater advantage of capital over labor, and soaring real estate values in swanky places such as Manhattan or San Francisco which , as one journalist put it, constitute “vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself.” The top hundred firms on the Fortune 500 list has revenues, in adjusted dollars, eight times those during the supposed big-business heyday of the 1960s.
This shift towards oligarchy well precedes President Obama’s tenure. It was born from a confluence of forces: globalization, the financialization of the economy, and the shift towards digital technology. Obama is not entirely to blame, it is more than a bit ironic that these measurements have worsened under an Administration that has proclaimed income inequality abhorrent…
These voices, both right and left, are still far from the main corridors of federal power but they are getting closer. The oligarchs should not rest too comfortably. An observer of gilded age America may have also assumed that the oligarchic power of the robber barons and industrial magnates would continue to wax inexorably. Yet, there comes a time — as occurred in the early years of the last century and again in the 1930s — when the political economy so poorly serves the vast majority that it ignites a political prairie fire. We are not there yet, in either party, but if the corrupt bargain between the oligarchs and the political class goes unbroken, the wait may not be long.