Piece by Piece: a new Gilded Age?


Brian Higgins

Staff reporter Madison Saviano explores hot topics and issues that students face in her weekly column Piece by Piece.

Madison Saviano, Staff Reporter

In history we learned about the Gilded Age, a period rightfully dubbed as such because while it was golden on the outside, scratching the surface exposed rampant problems. Monopolies were on the rise, the wealth gap widened, and the working class’ conditions worsened. 

We were asked to consider whether or not we thought the time we’re living in now is like to “a new Gilded Age” and as there are so many people who think that humanity has peaked, that earth has met its carrying capacity, and as time goes on humanity will only continue to backslide, I thought I’d share my thoughts. 

Before I get into it, I want to say that I think it’s a difficult time to compare anything to anything since, afterall, we’re living in a pandemic ridden world whereas this was not the case in the late 1800s. That being said, if we disregard this discrepancy, there are still some glaring similarities (and differences) we can draw. 

This is especially true in comparing the ways Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos amassed their wealth and the way that earlier figures such as Rockerfeller and J.P. Morgan amassed theirs. 

The principle similarity is that all of the above have either received government aid in the form of subsidies or altogether wave-offs even in spite of a virtual monopoly in the case of Bezos. Especially in times past, the government propped these figures up, gave them almost uncontrollable power, and essentially the ability to usurp the government’s power altogether. 

I have to ask myself whether or not this is taking place today. I would like to believe that nowadays we have the proper checks in place on these powers, but in lieu of the fact that companies like Amazon and Facebook (and the companies they’ve bought) virtually have no competition anymore, I really have to wonder.   

In the case of Musk’s SpaceX (which has also received government subsidies) I think it is less alarming since I think its establishment was necessary in this globalizing world. At the same time, though, and what I think this all boils down to, is the question of whether or not we as a people should entrust these things with the government or private entities. 

I don’t trust either, to be honest. As of late my trust for the government has become increasingly more skeptical and as for private entities controlling things as dire as national security, well, I don’t think I trust that too much either. And we certainly can’t have trust in their goodwill and just hope that they do the right thing. 

But America was built on checks and balances, and the fact that we are sceptical of either form of governance should be a good sign things aren’t as bad as they seem. It is up to us to check the government and up for the government to check the private entities. And as consumers, we can bypass the government if need be and keep private companies in check ourselves, as we have the ironclad power of denying our patronage. In a capitalistic society, this probably is our ultimate vote, so use it along with whatever else you can.