Parallax Views w/ J.G. Michael

Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America w/ Michael Hiltzik

October 4, 2020


On this edition of Parallax Views, sometimes it is necessary to examine the historical past to understand our present. For example, the current moment of rapidly increasing economic inequality that has colored the opening salvo of the 21st century appears to have a great deal in common with the "The Gilded Age" of the 19th and 20th centuries. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Hiltzik, author of Iron Empires: Robbers Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America, joins us on this edition of Parallax Views to explain how the U.S. railroad pioneers, or robber barons as their critics called them, like Cornelius Vanderbilt, E.H. Harriman, and J.P. Morgan gave birth to America's "Gilded Age" and the ways in which figures like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg may be their 21st century equivalents in a "New Gilded Age". In addition to discuss this fascinating topic we also discuss, in the closing ten minutes of the program, Michael's thoughts on the state of journalism today.

Among some of the issues covered in this conversation:

- What was "The Gilded Age"? How figures like the American novelist Mark Twain criticized power during this era

- How railroads were thought of in the 1800s; skepticism towards boosters of the railroad system back then (ie: being seen as a con job or a grift) and how, on the other hand, the railroads were seen as a technological marvel at the time; the Transcontinental railroad and it's significance; the "Golden Spike"

- The "scoundrel" Daniel Drew and his role in the early history of the Iron Empires referred to in the title of Michael's book

- The Union Pacific's Crédit Mobilier scandal involving railroad money's influencing of politics in D.C. through bribery

- The Bradley-Martin Ball and the excesses of the super-wealthy in the late 1800's as society's less fortunate struggled

- The role of the railroad barons in the economic crashes throughout the latter 1800s and before the Great Depression of the 1930s

- The Great Man Theory of History and whether or not it is applicable in describing the railroad barons

- The personality and beliefs of J.P. Morgan

- The role that figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Eugene V. Debs had in combating the railroad barons and their excesses

- The social changes brought upon by the railroad system including how it changed things for American women

This Episode Brought to You By:
The War State:
The Cold War Origins of the Military-Industrial Complex and the Power Elite, 1945-1963
Michael Swanson
The Wall Street Window

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