To rescue democracy, we must revive the reforms of the Progressive EraRoundup
tags: democracy, capitalism, Progressive Era
Ganesh Sitaraman is Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School and the author of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution.
More than a century ago, when industrial capitalism was on the rise, reformers and intellectuals outlined – and adopted – a variety of structures to keep the feral beast within a democratic enclosure.
These reformers recognized that concentrated economic power – in any form – was a threat to freedom and democracy. Concentrated economic power not only allowed for localized oppression, especially of workers in their daily lives, it also made it more likely that big corporations and wealthy people wouldn’t be subject to the rule of law or democratic controls. Reformers’ answer to the concentration of economic power was threefold: break up economic power, rein it in through regulation, and tax it.
It was the reformers of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era who invented America’s antitrust laws – from the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 to the Clayton Act and Federal Trade Commission Acts of the early 20th century. Whether it was Republican trustbuster Teddy Roosevelt or liberal supreme court justice Louis Brandeis, courageous leaders in this era understood that when companies grow too powerful they threatened not just the economy but democratic government as well. Break-ups were a way to prevent the agglomeration of economic power in the first place, and promote an economic democracy, not just a political democracy.
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