This essay analyzes economic inequality in the Gilded Age, roughly from 1865 to 1900. It focuses specifically on a group of economists who identified working-class consumption as an economic stimulus, and accordingly advocated an increase in wages to bring this about. It is structured in three sections: first, it demonstrates how industrialization in the late-nineteenth century sparked social tensions, convincing observers that there was a crisis of inequality; second, it explains how these tensions produced a “New School” of economics who sought to alleviate these issues by changing economic doctrine; it concludes by noting how this New School exerted an influence on public policy in the Progressive Era. In their conception, economics should be redesigned to promote a more equal distribution of wealth. Therefore, higher wages would stimulate working-class consumption, which would stabilize the economy and overall alleviate class conflict. This story offers a unique way to view the development of consumerism and social reform in American history.
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