The Progressive Era has been depicted as a seismic event in American history--a landslide of reform that curbed capitalist excesses and reduced the gulf between rich and poor. Progressive Inequality cuts against the grain of this popular consensus, demonstrating how income inequality's growth prior to the stock market crash of 1929 continued to aggravate class divisions. As David Huyssen makes clear, Progressive attempts to alleviate economic injustice often had the effect of entrenching class animosity, making it more, not less, acute.
Huyssen interweaves dramatic stories of wealthy and poor New Yorkers at the turn of the twentieth century, uncovering how initiatives in charity, labor struggles, and housing reform chafed against social, economic, and cultural differences. These cross-class actions took three main forms: prescription, in which the rich attempted to dictate the behavior of the poor; cooperation, in which mutual interest engendered good-faith collaboration; and conflict, in which sharply diverging interests produced escalating class violence. In cases where reform backfired, it reinforced a set of class biases that remain prevalent in America today, especially the notion that wealth derives from individual merit and poverty from lack of initiative.
A major contribution to the history of American capitalism, Progressive Inequality makes tangible the abstract dynamics of class relations by recovering the lived encounters between rich and poor--as allies, adversaries, or subjects to inculcate--and opens a rare window onto economic and social debates in our own time.
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About the Author
David Huyssen is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in American History at the University of York, UK.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Fault Lines of Rich and Poor 1
1 Invading the Tenements 11
2 Bank on the Bowery 31
3 Prescribing Reform 49
4 Loving the Poor with Severity 63
5 The Business of Godly Charity 89
6 Reaching Out to the Rich 107
7 Between Empathy and Prejudice 123
8 The Limits of Private Philanthropy 135
9 Killing Workers for Profit 151
10 The Primacy of Property 165
11 Sisters in Struggle 181
12 To Cooperate or Condescend 201
13 Sisters at Odds 213
14 Hard Fists, Short Fuses on the City Rails 227
15 Making the World Safe for Inequality 245
Epilogue: Recognizing Class in Ourselves 273