Brokers and Speculators

Seeing the images of halfway constructed buildings in Washington, D.C. particularly struck me as moving because they impressed upon me the true effect that the American Civil War had upon the country. The sense that accompanied the halting of construction on these internationally known monuments was reflected in the lines of Beat! Beat! Drums! Specifically the line “No bargainers’ bargains by day-No brokers or speculators-would they continue?” The vital service that these occupations provided to society was interrupted by the war, and thus slowing down societal progress.

Brokers and speculators during Whitman’s time were incredibly important to the national economy. Through their lending and investment of capital new businesses were given the fuel to begin production for their particular good or service. This source of funding has been the basis of growth at any point in human history since the creation of capital markets. The ability to tap into and borrow from cash resources for the purpose of beginning new ventures spurs growth in any industry.The Civil War stopped this flow of money into new ventures by ripping away resources that could have been used for other purposes that did not pertain to battle i.e. the picture displayed here. A large portion of the necessary resources that were needed to fight the war were coerced from the public by means of the newly instituted Federal Income Tax. This in turn created a disincentive for the public to work harder, because it was simply going to lead to a greater portion of their income to be stripped away. It doesn’t take a Harvard economist to see the negative effects that a war can have on the distribution of resources amongst a population. From this robbing of resources, we get the other instances that are encased in the poem. Whitman describes different facets of society being crippled with the onset of the conflict. Farmers, lawyers, scholars, and actors all feel the squeeze of the outflow of capital from their respective professions. Much like the wind that blows through the doors and “burst(s) like a ruthless force”, no aspect of society can escape its dependence on the necessity of investment money that was provided by the brokers and speculators.

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