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Monday, November 9, 2009

The New Robber Barons

Those who study American history are undoubtedly familiar with the late 19th century titans of industry who were dubbed the "Robber Barons." They were named such for their cutthroat business tactics and their iron will. They were seen as the Great White Sharks of industry...devouring all who opposed them and accumulating great wealth.

This morning I have just returned from Asheville, NC where my family and I visited (for the umpteenth time) the Biltmore Estate. This house, for those who may not know, is still America's largest private residence...3 times the size of the White House. This massive estate was built by George Washington Vanderbilt, youngest grandson of "The Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the family fortune and who, along with John Jacob Astor is widely accepted as one of the "original" Robber Barons. Now, this trip to Biltmore, as I've already stated, is one that our family has made many times before, but today it just seems a bit more relevant. You see, when I returned home I sat down at my desk, opened my e-mail and actually watched an info-mercial (yep, guilty as charged) on the Internet about the "New Robber Barons." This particular pitchman said that the new robber barons were the folks who signed up for a specific type of commodity trading account, and therefore it was implied that those who did not, by default, were excluded from ever hoping to achieve the greatness in industry that is each American's to seek. I thought this to be a bit dismissive and otherwise slighting! You see, the robber barons of old (Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, Gould, etc.) and the inventors that followed (Ford, Edison, Dodge, Bell, etc.)gained their success through foresight and innovation. Was such an info-mercial as I watched last night around for them or when current titans such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs had their groundbreaking ideas and helped to usher in the mass-acceptance of the computer age? Would they have been excluded from success for not taking advantage of such an offer? I believe not! This type of advertising, preying on people's fear while conjuring up the ghosts of past success is, to me, like saying to a new driver..."make sure to only pay attention to what's going on inside the car or only in the rear-view mirror." We all know that driving this way will put you in a ditch...but fast! I'm rambling about this today, but it just seems to me that if we're really trying to empower and energize people to become the next innovator and/or Captain of industry, a better approach for those wishing to become such is to study the past, but look steadily forward, rely on your own steam, and figure out what issues and/or needs need to be addressed to make the country a better place. Create, innovate, serve...for the one thing that (for all their faults) the Robber Barons of old did...they created! Sure, they were tough-minded, iron-willed, and in some instances just not nice people, but in their collective wake they left mines, railroads, refineries, pipelines, banks, brokerages, etc. Items and institutions that would serve our country, produce jobs, and propel us forward for many generations to come. That's what will bring America back...creation of opportunity...not setting up some personal commodity trading account! Want to be a New Robber Baron, think like an old Robber Baron...now you'll have to excuse me... I have to get out there and create something!
Best Always,
Dave J.

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Blogger American Capitalist said...

Dave, I must have gotten the same ad as you did. Like you, I deigned not to buy the snakeoil du jour that would have had dumptrucks of money pulling up to my front door. Also like you, and more importantly, I completely agree with your perspective that the robber barons of old may or may not have crotchety old dude, BUT they created! Tens of thousands of jobs, new industries, new technologies and many lives were enriched by their visions. Even today, we stand on that backs of those giants. I myself am an unapologetic Capitalist, for those of us that produce make the world better and foster opportunity for so many others (and, yes, we get paid handsomely to do so). Your post was a breath of fresh air. I am SICK of bashing of the captains of industry. Successful does not equal evil! Darin

November 22, 2009 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger David J. Jeffries said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond...I'm not much of a blogger and just found the comments. I'm out there like 5.91 million small business owners working the marketplace as best I can. Might I suggest a book for you. The Myth of the Robber Barons by Bruton W. Folsom, Jr. Great read and shows how even certain early businesses were subsidized by the government and were outdone by the true entrepreneurs of the day...goes into the histories and rise of the Vanderbilt, Cernegie, Schwab, the Scrantons, etc. Great read!
Best Always,

December 7, 2009 at 10:47 AM  

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