The question of whether the United States has entered a second Gilded Age has been top of mind recently given the issue of growing income inequality, with The Economist asking “If data is the new oil, is Jeff Bezos the new Rockefeller?”
Our very own Ed O’Donnell, associate professor of history at the College of the Holy Cross, has been a sought-after expert for the media on this issue, with his latest endeavor being a contribution to “The Gilded Age,” a new PBS documentary which premiered on Tuesday, February 6. The documentary centers on what it was really like when the richest 4,000 families in America possessed nearly as much wealth as the rest of the country combined.
Among others, the documentary tells the story of American social activist Henry George, whose self-published book “Progress and Poverty” was a surprise best-seller and who emerged in this period as a great reformer. According to O’Donnell, one of the reasons his views resonated so much with people is the way he talked about poverty. “Henry George breaks with the American tradition, which always said that poverty is the result of your own failures. George said it’s not your fault, it’s the way we organize our economy…there’s no reason for anyone to be poor in America.”
O’Donnell, a member of the Holy Cross class of 1986, earned his Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University. In addition to teaching a course at Holy Cross on Gilded Age America, he is the author of several books, including “Visions of America: A History of the United States” 3rd edition (Pearson, 2016) and “Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age” (Columbia University Press, June 2015). He also hosts a popular podcast, In The Past Lane, exploring various topics in US history.
To view the documentary in its entirety, visit PBS.org.
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