THE MONEY MEN

CAPITALISM, DEMOCRACY, AND THE HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR OVER THE AMERICAN DOLLAR

A lively and accessible history of a once-dominant issue in American life.

The Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which governs US monetary policy, was a compromise solution to a long and fierce brawl between capitalists and democrats over money—what it is, who should control it and how it shapes the economy. And what a brawl it was. Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; Andrew Jackson, 2005, etc.) recounts the machinations of figures from Alexander Hamilton and Nicholas Biddle to William Jennings Bryan and J.P. Morgan as they engaged in a wildly careening struggle marked by much oratory, some bribery and motives ranging from noble to nefarious. Beginning with Hamilton’s arguments for a national bank, Brands shows how the two camps developed. The capitalists argued for the stability and unity conferred by a centralized, well-managed money supply, while the democrats feared a strong central government as a threat to democracy. Tracing the shifting debate as the nation grew into an industrial power, Brands brings these men to life. We see one-third of the members of Congress profiting as charter shareholders of Hamilton’s first Bank of the United States; Philadelphia mobs rioting against the second Bank of the United States, with Biddle, its director, barricading himself at home; and Jay Gould and James Fisk fleeing the financial district for their lives (to an opera house) after cornering the gold market and precipitating Black Friday, in 1869. Hounded but also feted—100,000 people watched Fisk’s New York City funeral procession in 1872, while a brass band played—the 19th-century financiers played key roles in the rise of the rail and steel industries, battled Theodore Roosevelt and other progressives and saw their heyday pass (even as J.P. Morgan died) in 1913, when President Wilson convinced Congress to create 12 privately capitalized Federal Reserve Banks with government oversight.

Right on the money.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-393-06184-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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