The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970

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Overview

The Occupy Wall Street protests have captured America's political imagination. Polls show that two-thirds of the nation now believe that America's enormous wealth ought to be "distributed more evenly." However, almost as many Americans—well over half—feel the protests will ultimately have "little impact" on inequality in America. What explains this disconnect? Most Americans have resigned themselves to believing that the ...

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The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970

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Overview

The Occupy Wall Street protests have captured America's political imagination. Polls show that two-thirds of the nation now believe that America's enormous wealth ought to be "distributed more evenly." However, almost as many Americans—well over half—feel the protests will ultimately have "little impact" on inequality in America. What explains this disconnect? Most Americans have resigned themselves to believing that the rich simply always get their way.

Except they don't.

A century ago, the United States hosted a super-rich even more domineering than ours today. Yet fifty years later, that super-rich had almost entirely disappeared. Their majestic mansions and estates had become museums and college campuses, and America had become a vibrant, mass middle class nation, the first and finest the world had ever seen.

Americans today ought to be taking no small inspiration from this stunning change. After all, if our forbears successfully beat back grand fortune, why can't we? But this transformation is inspiring virtually no one. Why? Because the story behind it has remained almost totally unknown, until now.

This lively popular history will speak directly to the political hopelessness so many Americans feel. By tracing how average Americans took down plutocracy over the first half of the 20th Century—and how plutocracy came back— The Rich Don't Always Win will outfit Occupy Wall Street America with a deeper understanding of what we need to do to get the United States back on track to the American dream.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Labor journalist Pizzigati (Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives) brings a distinctly progressive sensibility to his examination of the economic history of 20th-century America. Beginning with historian Frederick Lewis Allen's observation that between 1900 and 1950 the super-rich vanished from the United States, Pizzigati traces the economic policies and political decisions that led to this diminishment, and then applies the same methods to the recent return of the "Big Rich." "Our overall economic output has doubled over the last thirty years, yet our middle class families are reeling, and our numbers of desperately poor families are rising to record levels by modern standards." Pizzigati reviews the introduction and evolution of estate and income taxes, FDR's proposed income cap, the immediate post-WWII "economic turmoil," and the Treaty of Detroit that balanced good benefits for auto workers with labor peace for auto makers. All this helped create the "middle class golden age" of the 1950s and 1960s. Though some readers may disagree with Pizzigati's take on history, his suggestions for ways to increase economic equality—such as "tying our maximum tax rate to the minimum wage so the wealthy have an interest in preventing poverty"—deserve discussion.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Labor journalist Pizzigati makes the case that graduated tax rates and strong unions once led to an economic golden age for average Americans—and could do so again. A flawed but ambitious, readable look at economic reformism over the last century."
Kirkus Reviews

"Make room for The Rich Don't Always Win on your book shelf right next to Howard Zinn's The People's History of America. In his lively, engrossing new book, Sam Pizzigati tells the story of class inequality in America, from the robber barons to today's "1 %." The title alone is a refreshing reminder that there have been times when the middle class pushed back against the growth of plutocracy -- and won. We can do that again and, as Pizzigati makes clear, we have to."
Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

"Only 50 years ago, America 'soaked' the rich with a 91 percent income tax. And guess what? America prospered! Not just the rich, but ordinary families. With colorful detail, Sam Pizzigati tells us why we should revisit that policy of prosperity for ALL, rather that for the plutocratic few."
—Jim Hightower, national radio commentator and New York Times best-selling author

"Bold, thorough, and above all inspiring—an energizing and spirited reminder of what it took, and what it will take, to once again make ours a nation of equals."
—Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism, and Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland

"This inspiring history offers a bold blueprint for today’s equality movements. We beat back the powerful rule of the wealthy to end the first Gilded Age.  We can beat back our current Gilded Age, too, and reverse the extreme inequalities of wealth and power that undermine all that we care about." 
—Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies, author of 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It

"Overlooking the current political-economic landscape of the United States, one might perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the country's wealthiest have gamed the system such that they will always come out on top, to the detriment of the rest of us. Labor journalist Pizzigati reviews the history of the 20th century in order to remind us that such sentiments might have seemed equally valid at the start of the that century, but that a broad group of activists, union organizers, political coalitions, and others fought a long-running battle to curtail the privileges of the plutocrats and to create the conditions for an unprecedented expansion of the middle class."
—BOOK NEWS, Inc.

 “Sam Pizzigati's new book, The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class 1900-1970, could therefore not come at a better time to rejuvenate the issue of income disparity and what to do about it. Employing a staggering compilation of primary sources, this exceptionally well-researched book reveals the previously unknown story of Americans who fought to overthrow plutocracy in the early 20th century.”
—Foriegn Policy in Focus

Kirkus Reviews
Labor journalist Pizzigati (Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives, 2004, etc.) makes the case that graduated tax rates and strong unions once led to an economic golden age for average Americans--and could do so again. The author focuses on how, since the end of the 19th century, a massive economic gap between the rich and poor in America has sparked populist and progressive ideas. The resulting legislation and regulations, he writes, brought about changes that greatly improved the lives of many Americans by mid-century. But as Pizzigati shows, many of those policies and institutions were weakened or eliminated in later decades, and economic inequality has since grown. By revisiting and reinvigorating those ideas--such as steeply raising taxes on the wealthy--he argues that the gap could be narrowed once more. The author gives due attention to several major historical figures, most notably Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Pizzigati also name checks less-discussed individuals, such as attorney and reformist Amos Pinchot and Colorado congressman Edward Keating. The author also delves into complicated labor history and tax law, examining the many victories and defeats of progressive-leaning policies. However, Pizzigati has an unfortunate tendency to broadly demonize the rich, at one point even taking issue with the wealth of doomed passengers on the Titanic. He is undeniably passionate about his subject and skilled at marshaling information to make his points, but the book seems largely aimed at like-minded readers and may not change the minds of skeptics. A flawed but ambitious, readable look at economic reformism over the last century.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781609804343
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 697,417
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.82 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

A veteran labor journalist, SAM PIZZIGATI has written widely on economic inequality for both popular and scholarly readers. His op-eds and articles on income and wealth have appeared in a host of major American dailies, from the New York Times to the Miami Herald, and a broad variety of magazines and journals. His last book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives, won a coveted "outstanding title" rating of the year Choice rating from the American Library Association. Pizzigati ran the publishing operations of America's largest union, the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, for twenty years and now serves as an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. His online weekly on excess and inequality, Too Much, goes to a national audience of journalists, researchers, and economic justice activists. Pizzigati has appeared as an expert commentator on inequality on 150+ radio and TV talk and news programs, from Pacifica to Fox Business News.
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Table of Contents

Preface IX

Introductionp I

Chapter One Plutocracy Triumphant 13

Chapter Two Enter a New Opposition 37

Chapter Three World War and the Wealthy 73

Chapter Four The Rich Muck Up Modernity 99

Chapter Five Great Depression and Grand Confusion 123

Chapter Six A Tridal Wave of Popular Protest 145

Chapter Seven Fighting Fascists, Capping Incomes 177

Chapter Eight Red Scare, Red Rival 209

Chapter Nine Labor and the Treaty of Detroit 229

Chapter Ten A Nation Soaks the Rich 247

Chapter Eleven A Middle-Class Golden Age 269

Chapter Twelve Cracks in the Middle-Class Foundation 289

Chapter Thirteen What If the Rich Never Stop Getting Richer? 319

Acknowledgments 331

Notes 333

Index 367

About the Author 371

About Seven Stories Press 373

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  • Posted March 6, 2013

    I thought this book was an important milestone in understanding

    I thought this book was an important milestone in understanding modern American history. It helps to you to understand where we came from and why the United States has degenerated into the crippled shadow of itself it once was. The one weakness in this book is that it glosses over much of the violence that occurred when the plutocrats suppressed the working class. It aso glosses over the contributions of the IWW and the militant left. I I suggest reading PLUTOCRATS by Christia Freeman, DYNAMITE by Louis Adamic,and THERE'S POWER IN A UNION byPhilip Dray.

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