Disapproval of the extreme wealth of the few during an economic downturn was made clear in a 1765 letter to the editor of theNew–York Gazette. The letter is primarily about the worsening relations with the “Mother Country,” England. However, the writer also expresses dissatisfaction with affairs in New York in a fashion that presages the “We are the 99 percent” theme of Occupy Wall Street:
Some Individuals of our Countrymen, by the Smiles of Providence or some other Means, are enabled to roll in their four–wheel’d Carriages, and can support the Expence of good Houses, rich Furniture, and Luxurious Living. But, is it equitable that 99, or rather 999 should suffer for the Extravagance or Grandeur of one? Especially when it is consider’d, that Men frequently owe their Wealth to the Impoverishment of their Neighbours.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… n’est-ce pas?
4 thoughts on “Ye Olde 99 Percent”
Certainement, Monsieur. Mais quelques idées deviennent vraiment démodées. Take for instance the idea that “men owe their wealth to the impoverishment of their neighbors.” Henry Ford proved that idea false by showing that a well paid worker buys more goods and educates himself and his children, thereby moving the economy forward for everyone, including Ford. That’s why Wisconsin has lost more jobs than any other state due to Walker’s budget repair bill and senseless cuts.
OTOH Ford dictated how his employees were to live their lives, even in the tiniest matters. Ford had its own private police force that regularly entered and searched employees’ homes to enforce Henry Ford’s standards of employee conduct on and off the job. Those who complained or attempted to unionize were beaten, sometimes to death.
In many ways Henry Ford was the 20th century equivalent to George Pullman. The Pullman company was the largest employer of minorities, specifically African Americans, at the time. But the deal was hardly fair and equitable. Ford Motor Company and other northern industrialists were responsible for a massive migration of blacks from the southern states in the early 20th century. And just like Pullman, Ford has his own “company town” approach to dominating his employees.
As an aside, I was given the honor of taking over the production of a documentary about Chicago’s west side during that period. When I went over the hours and hours of interview footage, I was amazed to learn that at one time, what was then the most dangerous area of the most racially divided city in the US was once a place where blacks, whites and others lived in social harmony and equality.
Oh yes. It is the same thing. And two other parallels that keep my eyes rolling: How today’s Tea Party ignores the context of the event that so inspires them. No taxation without representation wasn’t about a hatred of taxes. It was about the shareholders of the East India Company, authorized by the crown to monopolize trade (effectively shutting out colonial commerce) who were all members of parliament. In other words, they wrote the rules of the commerce game, and they wrote the rules to favor their own interests. And then there’s the South Sea Bubble. Speculation and corruption at its finest. Comparable to 21st century Wall Street and highly criticized by none other than…. Adam Smith.
Actually “hatred of taxes” does in fact sum up the colonist’s attitude pretty well. The British colonists in America at the time lived in what can only be described as a tax haven. They paid no personal income taxes, and virtually no other forms of taxes, but enjoyed the full protection of British military might to insulate them from the ambitions of competing nations, the locals (“Indians”), pirates and thieves. Protecting the American colonies (especially those in the north, with no big cash crops to make them worthwhile) had become a gigantic money pit for the crown. Either the colonists failed go grasp how good they had it, or were too greedy to care.
The fact that the whole operation was lead by Samuel Adams, a purveyor of beer and other forms of drink that tea could be considered competition to is a clue that shouldn’t be ignored. OTOH dumping a watertight sea chest overboard isn’t exactly proof that the tea was destroyed. It could have been a simple case of theft.
Either way it’s important to recognize that the promise of something for nothing (with a bit of jingoism thrown in) by both so-called “Tea Party” groups was their core justification for what they did. As such, both events were far from being acts of patriotism or liberty.
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