December 7, 2011 14 Comments
Have you ever heard the names John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, or even John Jacob Astor? Maybe you’ve heard of these guys… and maybe you haven’t. They ruled industry in the 19th century and were considered to be more powerful than even the President of the United States. The term “robber baron” was scripted to fit these men, and many others. They wealthy industrialists got whatever they wanted. And if someone in Washington tried to get in their way, they usually pushed back with more force that usually ended that person’s career. Think this might sound a little familiar?
The term “robber baron” derives from medieval German Lords that use to impose tolls to ships travelling the Rhine River. In the 1890s, it had come to be used to describe any wealthy businessman that used questionable practices to become wealthy. It combined the sense of criminal “robber” with illegitimate aristocracy “baron”. These guys controlled all the important industries… oil, steel, fur, railroads, and even real estate and finance. If it wasn’t sounding familiar before, how about now?
These giants of industry (or robber barons) were eventually brought down by one of their own… President Theodore Roosevelt, a man who was born rich and privileged. Growing up, Roosevelt personally knew the families of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, etc. And yet, it would be this man that would see what these men were representing. This is the time period when anti-trust laws came about, child labor laws, working conditions, health codes. When it comes to clean water or fresh meat, it comes to the era of Teddy Roosevelt. It took some time… and even some later Presidents (such as Taft) to continue busting up the monopolies and the power that these families had built up. The overall point being, that the power these industrialists had on government had been hit and broken. Sadly, it just didn’t stay that way.
Now let me ask you if you know some other names… Ken Lay, Daniel Mudd, Richard Syron, Ken Lewis, Rupert Murdoch, or Rex Tillerson? Some of the names might sound familiar and some might not. These men currently are or once were powerful men in their respective fields… Enron, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Bank of America, NewsCorp, and ExxonMobile. I chose these names in particular as they cover the areas of energy, finance, and the media. Did you know that JPMorgan Chase was fined for its roll with the Enron and WorldCom scandals at the beginning of the 21st century that actually helped the “dot-com bust”? Bank of America is the world’s largest wealth management corporation covering 80% of Americans. And one should currently look at the Board of Directors for ExxonMobile… where tentacles are reaching out into other industries by having the heads of other companies on the very governing body of this energy conglomerate. PepsiCo, AT&T, General Mills, Campbell Soup, and Chase Manhattan are just a few to list.
Not only has the United States reentered a world that President Roosevelt began to bust up while he was president, but the entire industrialized world is now falling victim to this. The mighty industrialists (robber barons) of our day have deep pockets and have government wrapped around their pinky fingers. It’s these robber barons that we blame for this worldwide economic recession that we are currently in… and the housing crisis here in the US. They were cooking the books and knowingly making bad business decisions in order to turn a bigger profit.
President Obama, on December 6, attempted to resurrect the spirit of President Roosevelt, but in my opinion, he will fall short. Roosevelt is a larger-than-life figure. After having several sub-par Presidents in the US, it was Teddy that brought back the power to the executive mansion and away from big business. These days, big business is just too ingrained within the halls of our government. And from what I’ve seen out of all the candidates running on the two major party tickets, none of them have the skills necessary to do what needs to be done once again to these industrialists and to their companies.
The ordinary people that make up the majority of society have been marginalized and pushed aside. Somehow, over the past decades, we have allowed this to happen. We have turned a blind eye until now. So can anything be done to break up the strangle-hold these robber barons have on our government, our economy, and even ourselves? I don’t have the answers to that. But I think a good start would be to bust up these “too big to fail” conglomerates and bring back free enterprise… a free market society. Consumers need more choices not bigger industries. We talk about how we are against big government… and even vote that way. It wasn’t until the Occupy Wall Street movement that a voice began to be heard against big business. There is much work to be done, and it will take time to do it. Unfortunately, this time we don’t have a Teddy Roosevelt to guide us and to swing his big club. For now, these robber barons of the 21st century are here to stay and continue to gain in wealth and power while placing us under a stranglehold. We can make sure, though, that we fight them all the way and make sure our voices are even louder.