The Age of Acquiescence

By Jim Carey

Occupy San Miguel will present Bill Moyers’ conversation with the labor historian and philosopher Steve Fraser, author of The Age of Acquiescence.

Bill Moyers and The Age of Acquiescence
Mon, May 18, 1pm
TV room
Quinta Loreto Hotel
Loreto 15

A few weeks ago, the day after the Baltimore troubles, John Angelos, the chief operating officer of the Baltimore Orioles and son of the owner Peter Angelos, took to Twitter to defend the Baltimore protests after they were attacked on local sports radio. He wrote, “My greater source of personal concern, outrage, and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to third world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard­working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever­more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

Steve Fraser, a labor historian and philosopher, argues that today’s deepening economic hardship for the 99 percent, combined with the “insatiable lust for excess” by these American elite (the one percent), qualifies our era as a second Gilded Age, which began around the “Morning in America” Reagan years and ended with the 2008 economic meltdown. While the contemporary wealth of the one percent shares much with the age of the robber barons, the popular response does not.

The first Gilded Age, from the end of the Civil War through to the Great Depression of 1929, was the Industrial Age: the steam engine, the transcontinental railroad, the mechanical reaper, the telephone, huge cities of a million plus, massive steel mills, and the elite robber barons like John Jacob Astor who, in today’s dollar, was valued at more than US$100 billion. To these elite, there was a “broad and multifaceted resistance”: the Eight Hour Leagues that cut the length of the working day and fought for the universal right to leisure and time for “what we will”; the bloody encounters on railroads, coal mines, and steel mills; the massive strikes that shut down cities and eventually led to better working conditions, higher wages, progressive taxation, social security; and the modern welfare state. Fraser describes this first Gilded Age as one that was “full of sound and fury.” Our second Gilded Age seemed to take place in a padded cell. He asks: Why has this age become one of acquiescence and not resistance? Has our society grown so accustomed to all the fundamentals of capitalism, not merely as a way of conducting economic affairs, but as a way of being in the world? Did we come to treat those fundamentals as part of the natural order of things, beyond real challenge, like the weather? Join the discussion after the film. It’s free.


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