- Paperback: 172 pages
- Publisher: Young America's Foundation (August 22, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0963020315
- ISBN-13: 978-0963020314
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 129 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America
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Burton Folsom's The Myth of the Robber Barons constituted one of the first shots in the revolution against liberal theology masquerading as scholarship. More importantly, it was easy to read and tailor made for students. --Larry Schweikart, New York Times bestselling author of A Patriot's History of the United States
A masterpiece. It is my favorite single book of economic history. --George Gilder, New York Times bestselling author of Wealth and Poverty
Taking on false narratives, Burton Folsom has written a highly educational and insightful account of America's business history that can also be applied to today's policy debate. It belongs on every bookshelf. --Michele Bachmann, Congresswoman, Minnesota's 6th District
About the Author
Burton W. Folsom, Jr. is the Charles Kline professor of history and management at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He received his Ph. D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and has taught U. S. history at the University of Nebraska, the University of Pittsburgh, Murray State University, and Northwood University. He has also been a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan; and historian in residence at the Center for the American Idea in Houston, Texas. He has written articles for the WALL STREET JOURNAL, THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR, POLICY REVIEW, and HUMAN EVENTS. Professor Folsom's first book was Urban Capitalists. His later books include Empire Builders, No More Free Markets or Free Beer: The Progressive Era in Nebraska. He has two edited books, The Spirit of Freedom and The Industrial Revolution and Free Trade. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Southern History, Pacific Historical Review, Journal of American Studies, Great Plains Quarterly, The American Spectator, and The Wall Street Journal. He is a columnist on economic history for The Freeman for Ideas on Liberty.
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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.
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.