A watershed event in American business history was the Homestead Riot of 1892. At the Homestead Steel Works near Pittsburgh, union leaders and workers rejected wage cuts proposed by owner Andrew Carnegie and plant manager Henry Frick. Negotiations failed, a strike began, the plant was closed, workers armed themselves, the Pinkertons were called in, and a battle ensued, killing three Pinkertons and nine workers.
But did you also know about the riot at New York’s Astor Place Opera House in 1849, in which angry factions clashed over the proper theatrical interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth? One faction preferred the “ruggedly masculine” and “forceful acting style” of Edwin Forrest, while the other advocated the “more restrained” approach of William Macready. Critics pronounced, insults were slung, tempers flared, one night the crowd went wild, the state militia was called in, and twenty-two people were killed.
So: Twelve people were killed over a wage dispute, while twenty-two were killed at the theatre. Interesting times when riots over Shakespeare can be more deadly than riots over money.
My essay, Defending Shylock: Productive Work in Financial Markets, is now available in Kindle format.
In this essay, I discuss the great value that financial markets add to an economy and the nature of the intellectual work that underlays them. In addition, I argue against the critics of financial markets who argue that those who work in them are zero-sum parasites upon the physical laborers who make tangible goods and that they make merely “paper profits.”
Along the way, I discuss controversial figures such as Martha Stewart, Michael Milken, Aristotle Onassis, Ivan Boesky, Jesus, Augustus, and Shakespeare’s character Shylock from The Merchant of Venice.