What Was So Innocent about the Gilded Age?

Some years ago, I became intrigued by the culture and economy of the Gilded Age (America, roughly 1870 to 1913), the last glimmer of the Belle poque. These were the final decades of the age of laissez faire, a time of astonishing invention, life expansion, explosive prosperity, and peace. A new world was being born. A new ruling class was born too, not of privilege but of merit in a capitalist economy.
For most Americans, this period of history remains unreported but for the legendary myths of the ‘robber barons.’ What is not often understood is the jaw-dropping change in the way people came to live. Think of it. In one or two generations, we were introduced to mass commercial markets for books, internal combustion, common use of steel in bridges and tall buildings, electricity, geographical noncontiguous communication, and eventually telephones, indoor heating, flight, and huge medical advances leading to declining infant mortality. Even if this list causes you to yawn, consider a more pressing invention to come out of the Gilded Age: the hamburger. That’s right: it was first introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair. These were once wonderful events, showing all the newest and coolest things coming in a world that most everyone thought had the brightest possible future. After all, kings and presidents were diminishing in stature and the captains of industry were rising, leading the whole of humanity to an age of opportunity and plenty for all.

This post was published at Mises Canada on JULY 14, 2017.