CHRISTOPHER W. SHAW

Historian

This is the history of how ordinary Americans struggled with skill and perseverance to create a banking system that truly served the people.

book coverBanks and bankers are hardly the most beloved institutions and people in this country. With its corruptive influence on politics and stranglehold on the American economy, Wall Street is not held in high regard by many outside the financial sector. But the pitchforks raised against this behemoth have been largely rhetorical: we have rarely seen riots in the streets or public demands for an equitable and democratic banking system that have resulted in serious national changes.

Yet the situation was vastly different a century ago, as Christopher W. Shaw shows in Money, Power, and the People. His book upends the conventional thinking that financial policy in the early twentieth century was set primarily by the needs and demands of bankers. Shaw shows that banking and politics were directly shaped by the literal and symbolic investments of the grassroots. This engagement remade financial institutions and the national economy, through populist pressure and the establishment of federal regulatory programs and agencies like the Farm Credit System and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Shaw reveals a surprising popular groundswell behind seemingly arcane legislation, as well as the power of the people to demand serious political repercussions for the banks that caused the Great Depression. One result of this sustained interest and pressure was legislation and regulation that brought on a long period of relative financial stability, with a reduced frequency of economic booms and busts. Ironically, though, this stability led to the current decline of the very banking politics that enabled it.

Giving voice to a broad swath of American figures, including workers, farmers, politicians, and bankers alike, Money, Power, and the People recasts our understanding of what might be possible in balancing the needs of the people with those of their financial institutions.

Money, Power, and the People is available from the University of Chicago Press now.