Property Vs. People

An appearance by Heather Cox Richardson on WGBH in Boston before the impeachment: (12 minutes, but very interesting – stay to the end for the predictions of what happens to the Republican Party)

Many folks have picked up on the daily email letter sent out by Professor Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson is a professor of history at Boston College currently having previously taught at MIT and the U of Massachusetts.   

Her letters focus on current mostly American political events using a historical political perspective. Said another way she does not just give a synopsis of what happened yesterday, but what were the antecedents that often go years, even decades back. The letters are a daily must read for me. You can subscribe to her letter here.   

As with nearly all media these days her letters are very much focused on the corona virus, in particular the administration’s response and what may be the drivers behind the response. One of her letters from a couple of weeks ago has really stuck with me. This was still the “early” days of lack of response from the current administration. 

If it feels to you like it does to me that the response has been greatly lacking in humanity and empathy this letter will help explain how such a lack in humanity and empathy came to be through the history of this country:

“It seems to me that, historically, we have swung between two extremes. When our lack of government oversight of the economy leads to the rise of extremely wealthy people who take over our political system and use it to promote their own interests, a crisis lays bare the misuse of the government for the rich. Americans then rise up and insist on an active government that protects the equality of opportunity on which our democracy depends. Three times before now, we have played out this pattern.

In our history, equality and the protection of property have always struggled. In 1776, the Framers launched the idea of a government based on equality before the law for all white men. But almost as soon as the new nation won independence from England, its inhabitants discovered that there was no guarantee of equality in a land based on property ownership. In the 1790s, in the new frontier region of Kentucky, wealthy slave holders monopolized the best land, dominated the government, and then wrote laws that benefited themselves at the expense of poorer men.

So many of the same men who had framed the Declaration of Independence put the Northwest Ordinance into effect in 1787: by outlawing primogeniture and enslavement in the western lands to the north of the Ohio River, it would, they hoped, prevent the concentration of wealth and subsequent consolidation of power in the hands of a few rich men. Then, in 1788, when they ratified the framework for that body of laws on which this nation would rest—our Constitution—they focused on the protection of property.

The tension between equality and property has dominated our politics ever since.”

From there Richardson goes on to highlight three other major eras in our existence where the tension between equality and property shaped with where we are today. Here is a snippet on the New Deal and the swing back for those favoring property:

“Their New Deal government was so popular most Americans assumed it was here to stay, and simply stopped thinking about it. And, once again, a backlash spearheaded by those who wanted the government simply to protect property erased much of the newly active government, and set out to erase more. When Republican Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, they began the process of dismantling the active post-WWII government. And, once again, wealth moved upward. As the wealthy gained more and more power, the legislation they backed endangered the equality on which democracy depends.

Now, we are in the midst of another cycle. The rise of multi-national billionaires and international mobsters who are seeking to control western democracies by cyberwarfare illustrates that we are in yet another profound crisis. But our stripped-down government cannot handle this modern world. Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus shows just how unable our government is to answer the great problems of the day.”

You can access the whole letter by clicking on the link above and entering your email. When her letters come up you will need to scroll down to the March 7th letter.

These days Richardson’s letters help start my day with maybe a bit more understanding than I went to bed with.


Just read Professor Richardson’s Friday letter concerning the secret recording by NPR of North Carolina Senator Richard Burrtelling a group of rich donors about the potential economic effects of the corona virus and the potential insider trading that Burr and 3 other senators engaged in.

Once again Richardson gives the story a historical perspective:

On his show on the Fox News Channel tonight, personality Tucker Carlson said that Burr had betrayed the country and must resign and await prosecution for insider trading. But Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst for CNN, explained that it would be really hard for prosecutors to prove insider trading in his case. He noted first of all the insider trading by members of Congress was legal until the STOCK Act of 2012, and that Burr was one of the only three senators who voted against it, arguing that insider trading laws already applied to Congress. STOCK stands for “Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge.” But then Mariotti explained how a prosecutor would have to prove that Burr had a specific piece of knowledge that the public did not, and that that information would drop stock prices. Burr could simply say there was a lot of information about the coronavirus out there, and that he could not have predicted what would happen to the stock market because of it. There is no doubt the SEC (the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission), which oversees the stock market, should look into it, Mariotti says, but it’s premature to jump to the conclusion that Burr can be charged with insider trading.

This matters, though, because sure looks bad, and it brings to mind what happened in the U.S. after the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression. During the heady days of the 1920s, people hadn’t paid a lot of attention to how leaders were making money. When they started to pay attention after the Crash, they discovered that the leaders who were preaching to them about austerity had been cheating. When the Senate held hearings about how to resolve the crisis, the former president of the Stock Exchange, a man named Richard Whitney, told senators the only way to fix the problem was to cut government salaries and veterans’ benefits. (When senators asked him why he couldn’t take a pay cut himself, he told them he made “very little,” only $60,000 a year, which was six times what a senator made.) Six years later, Americans learned that Whitney had been stealing assets and investing the money in failing companies. He went to prison for embezzlement.

Whitney’s story, and others like it, destroyed the reputation of the American businessman, the figure who had come to symbolize the genius behind what had seemed to be the prosperity of the 1920s. From being lionized as the nation’s leaders, they became symbols of what had gone wrong with America. In October 1936, after four years of New Deal programs, Franklin Delano Roosevelt illustrated this change. He noted: “They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.” 

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
This entry was posted in #trumpresistance, 2020 election campaign, Blog for Iowa, economic inequality, Economic Justice, Republican Policy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Property Vs. People

  1. Arron says:

    You did a nice job of putting this together. I read Heather Cox Richardson first thing every morning. She is beginning to put together a weekly event on Facebook. The first one was this past Thursday and she is still working on a usable format and content.


    • Dave Bradley says:

      Thank you very much. People need to understand at this time of crisis that the response by the administration is in line to some degree with the historical stance of the party in power. Like many, I believe that the response by a Democratic administration would be vastly different, not driven by ideology but driven by the realities of the situation.


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