PW: Wealth and Democracy is not only an astute analysis of contemporary U.S. economics, but a sweeping, detailed examination of how capital has affected governance over the past 400 years. Is Broadway hoping that it crosses over to a broader reading public?
KP: Actually, Basic Books, who published The Cousins' War, which was more of an academic history, did a fine job with marketing. And Broadway has been specializing in iconoclastic books about finance. They put out Thomas Frank's book One Market Under God and Robert J. Shiller's Irrational Exuberance. We are hoping to find audiences interested in politics, history—The Cousin's War gave me a credential in history I didn't have before—and, of course, we hope for a substantial audience who reads and follows economics.
PW: There is so much material here about contemporary economics and politics. What do you hope the impact of the book will be on public discourse?
KP: I'd be very happy if it had impact on elections in 2002 and 2004 and think that the book's subject matter could help shape policy considerations. Certainly, when money takes over the system so completely—the top 1% of the people who have money are the contributors to political parties—this deserves attention. But, more than that, I hope that people would pursue the historical dimensions of these questions. The examples I use discussing the vastness of wealth and its political consequences—comparisons between the U.S. and past Dutch and British history—are very telling in the fates of those empires.
PW: But will these discussions happen on a large scale? It is a truism that Americans are not good at, or eager to, discuss complicated political issues.
KP: We've seen historically that when events reach a certain critical mass Americans are able to come together and really discuss issues. During the 1890s there were widespread discussions of such monetary issues as the gold standard. There were protests and huge public meetings just to discuss how government policy was affecting common people. In the 1930s and again in the 1980s there was widespread acknowledgment—reflected even in Hollywood films—of the country's economic situation. These communal discussions are important and can and do happen.
PW: You make comparisons between the politics and economics of the 1880s and now. Were the 1980s and 1990s a new Gilded Age for America? Not only of monetary gain but of economic and political corruptions as well?
KP: Absolutely. The corruption that grew from the connections between money and politics grew in the 1980s—the banking and S&L scandals were just like the railroad scandals of a century before. By the 1990s more attention was being paid to the politics of money. And it was a problem in 2000 as well—John McCain, Bill Bradley, Ralph Nader, lots of people are following and raising these issues. In fact, the situation today dwarfs the Gilded Age. There is a huge disparity between the top and bottom in terms of what people earn and how this influences politics and policies.
PW: Do you anticipate much negative response?
KP: The political and financial conservative press will have criticisms, I am sure. At the moment, Republican economics are out of kilter with the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. I'm an independent. But I think that Lincoln and Roosevelt would be contemptuous of the current Republicans in Congress and the White House.
PW: Would you appear on the O'Reilly Factor?
KP: Sure. I am a great believer in throwing it back. I'd ask Rush Limbaugh how long has he been in the top 1% of the economic bracket and ask what his duties are to the bottom 99%.