William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold Speech” is unfashionably populist and quite divisive by today’s standards, particularly in his derisive references to “idle holders of idle capital.” But as a description of the contrasting economic approaches of the two parties, it’s not far off:
Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between “the idle holders of idle capital” and “the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country,” and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which side will the Democratic party fight: upon the side of the “idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party. There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.
Ygelesias translates: “The point is that while there is a conflict of interests between debtors and creditors, it’s not a zero-sum game. One path [–the one that treats even modest inflation as intolerable–] secures the interests of creditors at the price of reducing overall output.”
It’s worth adding that, at this juncture in history, what is dragging down the economic prospects of rich and poor alike is an absence of aggregate demand. More than at any other time since the 1930s, it is necessary to boost the prospects of ordinary folks — the “struggling masses,” to use Bryan’s term — if meaningful economic growth is to be restored. (Unless you’re new here, you know this already.)