Money, Power, and the People: The American Struggle to Make Banking Democratic

University of Chicago Press
[Purchase Here]

Banks 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.

“Highly recommended. In this engaging and well-researched study, historian Christopher Shaw examines what he calls 'banking politics,' the political force emerging from the activism of ordinary people who joined together to challenge financial institutions.”

“A remarkably timely—and genuinely timeless—account of one of the great struggles over the character of American capitalism. Money, Power, and the People will open your eyes about America’s financial and political past and open your mind about reforms that could create a more equitable future. You will enjoy and learn from this extraordinary book—that’s a promise you can take to the bank.”
– William C. Taylor, cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company

“In a dazzling—dare I say gripping!—historical narrative, Shaw reminds us of the surpassing importance of finance to the people it serves. Money, Power, and the People underscores how the greatest financial innovations came in the form of institutions that were demanded and designed through the will of the American people.”
– Sarah Bloom Raskin, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury

“An engaging and enlightening history of working people’s fight against big finance. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the evolution of banking and politics from the Gilded Age to Occupy Wall Street.”
– Christina D. Romer, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

“Shaw’s book shows us that democratic battles to define the shape of the financial system—and ensure that it serves Main Street—are as American as apple pie. Principles of fairness, access and accountability were important one hundred years ago, just as they are today. Anyone interested in financial regulation today would benefit from reading this rich history.”
– Timothy Massad, former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission

“Deeply researched and energetically written, Money, Power, and the People could not be timelier. Anyone concerned about how today’s giant banks have rigged the regulatory system to become too big to fail, fueling the crisis of income inequality, will find this book a revelation.”
– Charles Postel, author of the Bancroft Prize-winning The Populist Vision

“Shaw demonstrates forcefully how, during the twentieth century, the U.S. private banking system was a major force behind instability, inequality, and economic injustice. Shaw also shows how workers and farmers struggled to create a banking system that truly served their interests. What emerges from this important book is that democratic banking in the U.S. has both deep roots and enormous potential for building a more just society.”
– Robert Pollin, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

“There’s an old refrain that still rings true for millions of people who get chewed up and spit out by the gatekeepers of America’s financial system: 'To keep your beer real cold, put it next to a banker’s heart.' Shaw’s excellent history of what he calls 'banking politics' shows how essential it is to battle this selfish, exploitative, undemocratic system and develop one that serves workers, farmers, small business, and ordinary consumers.”
– Jim Hightower, editor of The Hightower Lowdown

Money, Power, and the People takes us on a fascinating journey through a time when opposition to the economic and political power of bankers and financial interests formed a cornerstone of progressive and populist politics. Accessible and comprehensive, it is a must read for those seeking to understand and confront the role of big finance in our current systemic crisis.”
– Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism

“A forceful, lively, and eloquent historical polemic. In original and provocative terms, Shaw reveals the vital role popular social movements played in reforming the American banking system in response to the mounting economic instability and inequality of the early twentieth century, and how these hard-won reforms provided the essential financial framework for the sustained economic growth and widely-shared prosperity of the postwar era. This is a bracing political and historical argument, deserving of a wide audience.”
– Jeffrey Sklansky, author of Sovereign of the Market: The Money Question in Early America


Preserving the People's Post Office 

Essential Books
[Purchase Here]

Preserving the People’s Post Office examines the full extent of the United States Postal Service’s importance to American society. Established on the eve of the Revolutionary War, the post office helped build a nation and has served the needs of the American people for over two centuries. Today, the postal system remains the one universal means of communication, its preferential postage rates for nonprofits facilitate civic involvement and a healthy democracy, its employees are fairly remunerated in an increasingly low-wage, low-benefit economy, post offices serve as the heart of community life in neighborhoods and towns nationwide, and the presence of postal workers on community streets make them safer, as the many beneficiaries of their frequently heroic efforts attest. Despite the diverse public benefits the Postal Service provides, however, there is a long-term campaign to transform this cherished institution from a government service into a for-profit corporation. Christopher Shaw uncovers this attempted takeover and shows Americans how they can protect the people’s post office by uniting together through their own civic organization.

“A ‘must-read’ for union and community activists.”
– American Postal Workers Union

“Shaw does an impressive job documenting how the Postal Service has provided a wide range of public services, going well beyond delivering the mail, for more than two centuries. This book should be essential reading for anyone who thinks that privatizing the Postal Service is a good idea, or that privatization of public services always leads to gains in efficiency.”
– Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

“Christopher Shaw's readable and important book about the Postal Service, which is so important to our democracy, our economy and our connections with our friends and family, is a great public service. It not only dissects how corporate mailers dominate our current postal system, but it recommends how consumers can regain a voice in its future direction by joining together in a simple way.”
– Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen

“Conservative think tanks, right-wing activists, and business-backed commissions in Washington, D.C., want to strip away the unique character of our Postal Service in the quest for privatization and corporate success. This book highlights what Middle America already knows: the post office is the core of the community in rural areas and provides an anchor for many of our small towns. Christopher Shaw speaks for the millions of Americans who live in those rural places.”
– Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-North Dakota)

“This book has enormous reach for the American future and immediate relevance to the present moment. … As Christopher Shaw here demonstrates (with a wonderful blend of warmth and anxiety) we are threatened with the ‘privatization’ of the U.S. Mail! His book is a veritable populist alarm bell in the night.”
– Lawrence C. Goodwyn, professor emeritus of History, Duke University

“The U.S. Postal Service is a little like Social Security. It works because it serves everyone, regardless of status or income. … Try to hand it over to private business interests and a popular firestorm is sure to follow. This book is a warning bell for citizens.”
– William Greider, national affairs correspondent for The Nation

“Such farsighted leaders as Benjamin Franklin created our universal postal service for the Common Good of all Americans. But—Lookout America!—here comes a cabal of greedheads and boneheads to plunder and corporatize this essential public resource. Shaw's book alerts us to this thievery, and shows us how to stop it.”
– Jim Hightower, syndicated columnist and radio commentator

“Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the push to privatize the post office and why it needs to be resisted.”
– Steve Hutkins, editor of Save the Post Office and professor of English at New York University