Robber Barons– Unmasking Modern-Day Titans of Industry: Scrupulous Profiteers, Generous Philanthropists…

Robber Barons– The very words ‘robber barons’ speaks of– mystery, intrigue, power… deeds that no truly compassionate human being could ever commit in good conscience… According to J. Bradford DeLong; in the 20th century we called them– robber barons, capital of industry, economic princes… today we call them– billionaires…

The capitalist economy can generate such enormous opportunities that individuals– lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time… who are driven… smart enough to see and seize economic opportunities… with foresight enough to take large share of equity of a highly profitable enterprise… well-connected enough to fend off political attempts to curb their wealth… these are the true robber barons…

Theodore Roosevelt spoke of ‘malefactors of great wealth‘ and embraced a public and political role for the government in ‘anti-trust’ by controlling, curbing, breaking-up large enterprises of private economic power… However, their defenders painted a different picture: Robber Barons were examples of the U.S. as a society of untrammeled opportunity, where people could rise to great heights of wealth and achievement in industries; they were public benefactors who built up very large and profitable enterprises… then become philanthropists; sharing their great wealth…

According to Mark Twain; the robber barons’ credo is– Get money. Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it dishonestly, if you can, honestly, if you must… According to Rich DiSilvio; most ominous is lobbying muscle of today’s robber barons that entice politicians with huge campaign funds; the result being that senators, congressmen, even presidents have too eagerly jettisoned their sworn public duties to embrace their overlords’ greedy agendas…

According to Paul Shalmy; one hundred fifty years ago the ‘corporation’ was a relatively insignificant institution… today’s it’s the dominant institution, extraordinary power, influence over our lives… Over past century-and-half the U.S. economy has been at times relatively open to and at times closed to– the ascension of robber barons or modern-day billionaires… Becoming a billionaire has never been easy but next to impossible before 1870 and between 1929-1980, then the years since 1980 we have seen the return of super rich– modern-day robber barons…

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In the article Tech Moguls: Modern-Day Robber Barons by Mark Russell writes: New-tech moguls: Are they the modern robber barons– today’s captains of industry? They are the wealthy, powerful figures who control the digital universe… What’s striking about this is not just the staggering wealth that these people have managed to squeeze out of what are, after all, just binary digits (ones-zeros), but how recent are the origins of their good fortunes… Given their prominence, we know very little about modern moguls for various reasons: One is that we are remarkably incurious about what makes them tick… But this is all superficial stuff, the journalistic fluff of celebrity profiles and gossip columns…

What’s much more significant about these moguls is that they share mindset that renders them blind to untidiness and contradictions of life, not to mention the fears and anxieties of lesser beings. They are technocrats who cleave to a worldview that holds that if something is technically possible then it should be done… it’s all about progress, stooped… Actually, it’s all about values and money…

The trouble is that technocrats don’t do values. They just do rationality. They love good design, efficiency, elegance – and profits… What gets lost in the reality is that they are fanatically ambitious, competitive capitalists… They may look cool and have soothing bedside manners, but in the end these guys are in business not just to make money, but to establish sprawling, quasi-monopolistic commercial empires. And they will do whatever it takes to achieve those ambitions... The strongest link that binds them is that they are all pioneers in the exploitation of virgin territory, and that rings some historical bells…

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In the article Return Of Robber Barons by Herrick Kimball writes: The so-called robber barons were men that took tangible things– minerals, resources, factories… built large companies, employed many workers… and made enormous individual fortunes, gaining much power… The exact same condition exists today, except these– people, institutions, corporations… are the primary holders of the majority of the world’s identifiable wealth in extraordinarily concentrated fashion– and, they don’t actually make anything…

There are at last count–147 super-companies in the world that basically control about 40% of entire identifiable net worth of corporations… So it’s a pretty big chunk. Of the top 50, 17 are banks and quite a number of the rest of them are insurance companies, financial services, and brokerage houses… They’re just moving paper from point A to point B. That’s their job. And that’s where all the wealth is concentrated right now. More concentrated than it was at the height of the robber barons era; with the difference being that this time the power is concentrated in the hands of people who fundamentally don’t create value. They harvest value…

In the article Apple, Amazon, Google, Oracle… New Robber Barons? by Tim Worstall writes: In deed the; Jobs, Ellison, Gates, Bezos, Brinn, Page… are much like– Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller… But this doesn’t make them anything like the robber barons of the past… For there were really two groups of entrepreneurs who made it big the 20th century: There were those who simply did thing– better, cheaper… than their competitors and thus they were able to stake claim-own a large part of an industry, for example; Rockefeller in oil. Vanderbilt in steamships, Carnegie in steel…

Sure, they competed very hard against all comers: but they did it with better technology and cheaper prices… I would argue that the Apples, Googles, Oracles, Amazons… of this current world are much the same… Yes, there is that use of IP in-fighting, but by and large they are fighting each other through market competition, technological advance, ever lower prices… However, there are other sectors of the economy much more like — robber barons of old: those who conspire with politics to restrict entry in markets, used underhanded tactics to gain competitive advantage… It’s interesting that both groups still exist: Those who wish to profit from restricting competition… and, those who wish to do so by beating the competition…

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In the article Internet Robber Barons by Steven Hodson writes: Today the idea of robber barons might seem a rather foreign concept but the reality is that we could very well be seeing the creation of a whole new set of robber barons: Internet robber barons. Unlike the industrial robber barons before them; this generation of Internet robber barons are operating in two different realms: First, the corporations that control the– how, why, where… for accessing the web… Second, maybe even more insidious, are those collecting and keeping every bit of data on the web…

It all hinges on one simple principle: Ease of Access… With control of access in the hands of a few companies; which grow fewer with each acquisition and merger, consumers have increasingly little voice in what is supposed to be the vehicle of free distribution and sharing of information– it’s the toll-booth we all must pass through… According to Matthew Lasar; a new generation of robber barons is being created; a generation who will in effect control information– how it’s shared, who has access, how much they will allow to be seen, read, use… They will also control the value of that information, price…

As much as we might like to believe in the illusion of an open web that can be access by everyone, from anywhere in the world, by any possible method– the reality is that right now and for much of the foreseeable future this ideal is nothing more than a pipe dream… The new robber barons are coming to town– nothing good can come of it…

In the article Robber Barons of Wall Street  by Ken Moyle writes: Robber Barons of the 20th century created infrastructure (railroads), products (steel) and employment on the road to accumulating their enormous wealth. On the other hand, 21st century robber barons are making their fortunes by skimming and leaching off loosely regulated financial system to detriment of individual investors, pension funds…

Their methods, although assuredly legal, push the envelope in ways that are not available to most– individuals, small banks, many institutions… They use highly leveraged speculation (i.e., euphemism for gambling) on commodities, currencies and markets to manipulate, distorting original intent of the hedging process… Reining in the financial sector robber barons should be high priority… and yet there seems to be a collective passive response to these excesses…

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There are two sides to robber barons, just as there are two theories of thought about them: some consider them to be cunning and barbaric in their methods of pursuing wealth and power, while others believe they are integral factors in promoting the economy, giving people jobs, donating countless sums of money, social landmarks through philanthropy… Whichever way one thinks about robber barons they surely are– smart, entrepreneurial, business and politically savvy, often lucky…

The 20th Century entrepreneurs built companies, conglomerates, cartels… They employed millions of people, operated huge plants and equipment (e.g., railways, shipping, steel mills, oil refineries…) and made an indelible imprint on the landscape… The modern counterparts are mainly in the business of shipping bits – in the form of software, online services, technical support…

Skeptics point out that when modern-day robber barons are puts into historical context they aren’t quite as rich, or as important as predecessors… for example; Forbes commissioned an economist to come up with an inflation-adjusted list of the richest Americans of all time, and the website ‘Business Insider’ published the results. The list is headed by robber barons of old; John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt, with $336bn, $309bn and $185bn respectively.

The only contemporary figure who makes it on to the list is Bill Gates, whose net worth at its peak was estimated at $136bn – which (says the skeptic) rather puts Larry Ellison, Google guys, Jeff Bezos… into perspective… According to Nancy Stewart; debate rages on about impact of so-called robber barons on society, industry… Many believe business practices of people were/are, in fact, detrimental... However, some argue that captains of industry are good for society because, they allowed it to go– from positions of potential to positions of realized potential… 

Robber barons are cunning, manipulative, greedy pursuers of wealth, power… they are smart, savvy, opportunistic… they build very large highly successful business enterprises… some even share wealth, knowledge, expertise… Clearly, without robber barons-billionaires the world would be a very different place…