Monday, August 19, 2013

1848 again?

As the 21st century settles in, discontent spreads through the developed world. Concerned primarily with government and its uncomfortably close ties to the wealthy, we watch as our politicos play in favor of monied interests at every juncture.

Large segments of the population have come out in protest as the gap between the rich and poor widens.  With information available from international sources, folks have begun to note the decades of spectacular progress for the wealthy while the working class continues to lose ground.

Most recently, the Great Recession cost trillions of dollars.  That price was paid out of middle class retirement plans and investments, out of working class food prices, and out of the developing world's marketplace.  At the bottom of the curve, millions died.

Perpetrators of this most recent mega-theft were insulated from accountability and paid millions of dollars in bonuses for their crash participation and subsequent years.  Generally, the companies involved and their employees were bailed out and protected by the governments of the countries involved.  While I lost about a third of what I've set aside over the last forty years to care for my wife after I'm gone, they made top-1% salaries plus bonuses.  Despite market recovery, our personal losses are real and will not be recouped within my lifetime.

Galician slaughter (Polish: Rze┼║ galicyjska) by Jan
Lewicki depicting the massacre of Polish nobles
by Polish peasants in Galicia in 1846
Interestingly, the mid-nineteenth century was much like today.  The world was similarly stirred up with protests in major cities across Europe.  It was the trailing edge of an upheaval that began perhaps with the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the emerging industrialization of the larger economies.

Unskilled laborers spent 12 to 15 hours a day working while living in disease and squalor.  Much like life for today's poor, they spent half of their earnings on food.  Aristocratic wealth (and corresponding power) was synonymous with the ownership of farm lands and effective control over the peasants. Their grievances exploded during the revolutionary year of 1848 with more than 50 nations involved.

The wealthy families were called 'aristocracy' and 'the nobles', but they weren't particularly noble. Their lives were focused on self and power, much like today.  Serfdom died as many of the 'nobles' were killed by peasants in the uprisings.

The European Revolutions of 1848 were a series of political upheavals across the continent.
It remains the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history, but within a year, most
uprisings were crushed.  The revolutionary wave began in France in February, and immediately
spread to most of Europe and parts of Latin America. Over 50 countries were affected, but with no
coordination or cooperation among the revolutionaries in different countries. Among the factors
involved: widespread dissatisfaction with political leadership; demands for more participation in
government and democracy; the demands of the working classes ...

The Gap between rich and poor prompted revolutions across the world aimed at the privileged and their government.  Thousands died but little structural change followed; ideological conflict continues, however, as injustice and inequality boil up and over again today.