Feige Gornish 12B
History Research Paper
February 7, 2012
Social Darwinism: The Best Approach?
During and after the Gilded Age, because of the great changes of Industrialization, the American government’s involvement in regulating the business world was a hotbed of controversial debate. Some felt that the way to achieve greater economic and social growth and to fix society’s problems was through Social Darwinism and Individualism. Social Darwinism was a theory, that what a man worked for was all he deserved to receive, and that no one should give aid to anyone, because they must’ve not worked as hard as they should have. Individualism was essentially the same idea that any man could rise from whatever origins they were born to, to as high as he wanted if he worked and utilized his capabilities and strength of will to the utmost. In contrast others felt that the government and the wealthy should be more involved in regulating the economy and helping the poor and needy out. They felt that while America had become an industrial giant with the turn of the century, her morals and human values had been left in the old century. Big business owners and government officials had abandoned all values, real or imagined for self-profit. Walt Whitman, a poet who constantly had sung the praises of America’s democracy, culture, and strength, now wondered whether her materialistic pursuits had made her have a “hollowness of heart (R. D. Heffner, A. Heffner, 220-221).” By going through the origins of these two perspectives, and the evidence of who profited from the ideas, Social Darwinism will be shown not to have been the best road for the United States government to take in respect to the economy in specific and the citizens of the country.
The Gilded Age was an era that extended from the late 1870’s to the late 1890‘s. The term Gilded Age came from a book by Mark Twain and Charles Warner, entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The authors were subtly trying to tell the public that although the new innovations the era had brought shone and sparkled like gold, beneath the inventions, industrialization, and economic growth, poverty, crime and great class differentiation festered. During the era of the Gilded Age, the United States’ approach to the then largely lasseiz-faire economy was a topic of great debate in the nation (Appleby et al, 458).
The concentration of wealth in the United States was clustered at the very point of the social pyramid. In early 1900’s, there were approximately 30 billionaires in the United States. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick, Ford, and an array of railroad builders and financiers topped the list. The level of class inequality was so great that the laborers had a very, very weak bargaining point. There were not that many other places to work, and so the employers were able to set low wages and unsafe working conditions with no fear of opposition. Strikes were either broken up by force or ignored, and new workers took the place of the old rebellious ones (Heffner, 219). Many of the big businesses did not use fair business tactics. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust finagled the Railroad companies into giving him rebates on shipping costs, out of consideration of his sheer freight bulk. He freighted (unfairly) for much less than the small businesses. Most of the big businesses also sought to make some sort of monopoly over their area of trade. Whether vertical (All the fields involved with the business) or horizontal (All of a certain business) monopolies, they got the whole field under their control, forcing the other competitors out of business with below unfair prices. Other big companies used wrong or even harmful measures to increase their profit margins. The meat field for one did not hesitate at using rancid and rotting meat in their products to save money. For their ground meat they used spoiled meat they could not sell, offal and even rat meat. Unfortunate humans who fell into...
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