The New York Times says this is the new gilded age, and it looks like it is. The are a lot of similarities to the beginning of the 20th century. Why didn’t the US move into a new gilded age after World War II. Financially we were in even better shape than we are today, because almost every other industrialized country around the world was in shambles. The article asks why now instead of the 1960s or 1970s. One answer that keeps coming up is changes in regulatory and tax structure. Taxes today are lower; Glass-Steagall was removed from the books, allowing nationwide banking, etc.
Something the article doesn’t mention is World War II. WW II is so far unique in our history in pulling the country together. Unlike Vietnam and Iraq, almost everybody served in the military and fought. Men from the upper classes and the Ivy League spent years with men from the farms and factories. There was a brotherhood and a sense of shared responsibility. Today there is none of that. The privileged classes don’t fight in Iraq. There is less social mobility within American society.
After WW II men who served as officers and returned to run the business world felt a kinship for and obligation toward the less fortunate enlisted men they had fought with. Some of the elite, rather than going into business, went into politics and ended up passing some of the laws leveling American society, making taxes more progressing, limiting monopolistic practices, etc., the kinds of things that have been undone in the last 20 years.
While these men ran America, we had a somewhat golden (as opposed gilded) age where management and labor worked more or less together to make life better for everyone. Today there is very little of that. The head of FedEx is a Vietnam veteran, and while Vietnam was a very different war, FedEx probably espouses more social responsibility than most other corporations whose managers only know the brotherhood of business school at Harvard or some other elite university.
Checking Wikipedia for military service by some big business names, I found:
- Bill Gates (Microsoft) – No service
- Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway) – No service
- Sandy Weill (Citicorp) – Did Air Force ROTC; wanted to be a pilot, but apparently could not qualify and did not serve in the active military.
- Leo Hindery (AT&T) – No mention of service, but less than complete biographies.
- Sumner Redstone (Viacom) – Worked in the predecessor to NSA during WW II.
- Kenneth Griffin (Citadel hedge fund) – No mention of military service; sounds like he went straight from Harvard into managing hedge funds.
- Lew Frankfort (Coach) – No mention of military service in Business Week bio.
- Sheldon Adelson (Gambling/Las Vegas) – No mention of service in Forbes bio.
- Larry Ellison (Oracle) – No mention of service in Forbes bio.
- Paul Allen (Microsoft) – No mention of service in Forbes.
- Jim Walton (Wal-Mart) – No mention of service in Forbes.
- Robson Walton (Wal-Mart) – No mention of service.
- Sergay Brin (Google) – No mention of service.
- Larry Page (Google) – No mention of service
- Michael Dell (Dell) – No mention of service.
- Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) – No mention of service.