According to John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash, financial speculation during the 1920s grew so feverish that “even the cathedral voice of William Jennings Bryan, which once had thundered against the cross of gold,” was “enlisted in the sorry task of selling swampland” in Florida. (Click here to read the Great Commoner’s famous speech to the 1896 Democratic convention.) Seekers of morbid parallels between 1929 and 1999 will be interested to learn that Jesse Jackson is following in Bryan’s footsteps. Jackson and his son, the Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., are authors of a forthcoming book titled It’s About the Money!, due in January. According to the promotional copy, Jacksons pere et fils have decided that accumulating wealth is “the fourth step in the movement to freedom,” Steps 1, 2, and 3 being, respectively, “emancipation from slavery,” “ending legal segregation,” and “securing the right to vote.”
Though the packaging of the book is clearly meant to communicate, “buy this and get rich!” (let’s be grateful the publisher didn’t make the Carville allusion more explicit and call the book It’s About the Money, Stupid!), the Rev. Jackson would probably say he’s preaching not the gospel of wealth but the gospel of financial responsibility and independence. Topics covered include laudable middle-class goals such as “getting out of debt,” “preparing a budget,” “preparing for retirement,” and “avoiding financial scams.” Jackson last year wrote the forward to a book called Money Talks: Black Finance Experts Talk to You About Money, and he has long spoken compellingly of the need to increase African-Americans’ access to capital. But Money Talks was written by an actual expert (a black financial journalist named Juliette Fairley). And while the soundness of expert opinion from journalists such as Fairley or Jane Bryant Quinn or Andrew Tobias is easy to overestimate, surely some training or experience is necessary before you start telling people what to do with their money. What financial expertise does Jesse Jackson have? According to the publisher’s catalogue (this part, unfortunately, isn’t online), the authors of It’s About the Money! have “unparalleled recognition and credibility.” Yes, but not about the management of money. Jackson pere is quite famous for starting organizations such as Chicago’s Operation PUSH and not keeping them especially solvent. “A tree shaker, not a jelly maker,” is how Jackson famously once described his own management talents. This is not how Jane Bryant Quinn would describe herself, even if you caught her in an unusually giddy mood.