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Download The Myth of the Robber Barons epub

by Burton W. Folsom

Download The Myth of the Robber Barons epub
ISBN: 0963020307
ISBN13: 978-0963020307
Category: Other
Subcategory: Humanities
Author: Burton W. Folsom
Language: English
Publisher: Young Amer Foundation (July 1, 1991)
Pages: 170 pages
ePUB size: 1157 kb
FB2 size: 1583 kb
Rating: 4.7
Votes: 492
Other Formats: mobi azw lit docx

The Myth of the Robber Barons — A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America, by Burton W, Folsom, Jr., Ph.D.

a short Book Report by Ron Housley

When I was a child in New Jersey, the Lehigh Valley Railroad practically ran through my back yard. Every day at suppertime a dark red passenger train, powered by one of those ALCO PA diesel locomotives, roared by and I always wondered where it came from, where it was going, and who was on it. Little did I know that Charles Schwab’s Bethlehem Steel produced the rails, that Lehigh was actually part of Pennsylvania, that the railroad in my backyard was a symbol of American industrial history — which I wouldn’t fully learn about for decades to come. Folsom’s book colored in more of the missing pieces for me.

Burt Folsom shows us that the industrialization of America was not a “pure” story of individual productivity. Rather, it was a story seriously contaminated by ongoing instances of innovation-stifling government intrusion (think: special privileges, regulations, subsidies, fines, charters, tariffs and miscellaneous obstructionism) at every turn, just a little at first but ever more as the years ticked by. And we learn in this volume to be on the lookout for those never-ending contaminations —— which prevented the story from being one of productive capitalism and turned it into a story of how government coercion always makes things worse and can damage an entire civilization’s understanding of what productivity and industrialization depends upon.

Folsom’s little book from 1987, now in its seventh printing, lays out the basic facts of notable American entrepreneurs. And woven into each story we see the same history repeating itself over and over: economic growth stifled by coercive government forcing citizens to misallocate their wealth.

The culture at large painted each of the successful industrial pioneers as an object of scorn, as if each had stolen, rather than created, his wealth.

Vanderbilt, for instance, uprooted Robert Fulton’s state-granted and state-enforced monopoly of all steamboat traffic in New York; he was instrumental in removing government force from the economic equation; he relentlessly competed against federal aid to other steamboat operators; and when he out-competed even the most heavily subsidized shipping lines, he was vilified and hated for his success.

These American producers were likened to the “Robber Barons” of medieval Germany who used force to extort wealth from innocent merchants. “Robber Baron” turned out to be an effective smear, casting paragons of virtue and productivity with the opprobrium ordinarily reserved from rapists and murderers.

Those who benefited most from the new comforts afforded by the industrial revolution were the ones who most vehemently denounced the very men who made those comforts possible.

It was these envious and vengeful regressives who ultimately rose to prominent numbers in government, in academia and in the press. These were the ones who clamored for federal subsidies and loans (think: Solyndra, today, or railroad land grants, back when); these were the ones who threw up obstacles to economic development (think: ICC, FTC, anti-trust); these were the ones infecting the American culture of freedom with the notion that protecting individual rights was, therefore, the central mistake of our country’s founding (!).

So, all during the careers of Vanderbilt, of the Scranton’s, of Rockefeller, of Carnegie and Schwab, of Mellon, there was a cultural counter-current, even as the developing industrial revolution was lifting the masses out of poverty for the first time in human history.

Each instance where an industrial hero created new wealth and opportunity where none had existed before, the counter-current grew louder.

And what was the counter-current? It was the growing chorus in support of government confiscating this newly created wealth and distributing it to non-producers; in support of disallowing inheritances; in support of throwing up obstacles to business growth; in support of coercively imposing equality of wealth —— never mind the producer who created the wealth in the first place; and never mind the impact on would-be future producers.

The counter-current was a resurrection of the Christian morality outlined in The Sermon on the Mount; it was given new energy by 19th century German philosophers; it was smuggled into America by the country’s intellectuals, not the least of which was Woodrow Wilson who had pursued his graduate education in Germany, itself.

Never mind that millions of Americans suddenly were lifted out of century’s-old poverty; never mind the new opportunities suddenly available to anyone willing to pursue them; the culture was already under the spell of this “new” (think: old) moral philosophy insisting that our foremost moral duty is to sacrifice ourselves to others — i.e., otherism, or, altruism.

Folsom’s book gives us a glimpse into the phenomenon of wealth creation itself. We see that it depends entirely upon the focused effort of individuals.

And side by side with stories of wealth creation we see how the wealth destroyer gradually but steadily took command of the culture’s hatred for individual productivity. We see how the bias against individualism has been woven into today’s indoctrination which passes for education.

To me, Folsom’s most compelling act was to make solidly concrete the picture supporting an otherwise abstract principle: productivity requires freedom. It is a principle practically lost by today’s culture.
One of the best books I have ever read. Want to be reminded how America became great? How schools demonize industrialists and entrepreneurs? Did you ever think that the term "robber baron" made good people look bad? This book sets the record straight. It shows the differences between industrialists (market entrepreneurs) and businessmen who used the government to stifle competition (political entrepreneurs). The Myth of the Robber Barons should be read by every high school student. This is required reading for my senior Government/Economics course. Despite requiring the students to read any one chapter, once they start reading it, they love it. If you are buying them to use in your class, buy extras because you will have students asking to keep the book! These books make a great gift for high school or college students, students of history, and for social studies teachers.
Looks at various historical cases of American "robber barons" and demonstrates that there are rent-seeking crony capitalists (who wish to let the taxpayers pick up their expenses) and there are honest businessmen who overcome considerable obstacles to achieve business success. Of course, the "real world" isn't quite as cut-and-dried as this book might make it seem -- but one may need to make allowances for the brevity of the book in making it's points. In some cases, a more nuanced review of some who received government subsidies might show that there were some political exigencies driving economically poor policies. In particular the discussion of the (first) transcontinental railroad. Admittedly, the U.S. Congress set up some "incentives" that created counter-productive behaviors on the part of the competing builders -- but that doesn't make those builders quite so negative as the book suggests, as they were simply pursuing the incentives that Congress devised. Sadly, (in the case of railroads) Congress went on to subsidize several other transcontinental railroad builders without having learned its lessons in devising incentives. (Of course, after the first transcontinental railroad (built under the pressure of the Civil War with the motive to "keep California in the Union") the Congress would have been much better off in not subsidizing other builders over other routes.

All in all, a solid book that might have been longer to allow more nuance in the discussions of various business heroes (designated as "Robber Barons") but with the understanding of it's limitations, the book makes good points about the stupidity of central planning and intervention of the central government in economic interests. A lesson, I might point out, that Congress and most Federal Agencies have still not learned.
One of the only books that I've ever given a five start review to.

Toward the end of taking "Intro to Microeconomics" we spent several chapters on monopoly, oligopoly, etc.

The textbook navigated the typical economic myth about how evil monopolies had to be stamped down by the government. Combined with how capitalism caused the Great Depression, and how the private sector caused the Great Recession, this is one of the great American myths of free markets.

At any rate, after several chapters from a contemporary textbook, I wanted to read a different perspective to counter-balance. "The Myth of the Robber Barons" was an easy read in between classes at about 140 pages, and had more useful information than three chapters of my textbook.

The book is written in a fairly simple manner, which isn't meant to be a slight, as it focuses more on the economic narrative than in diving into the cast of characters involved. It is a valuable read, and something that I will certainly revisit in the future.