In recent weeks, I have studied the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age – we know them as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, J.P Morgan, Jay Gould, Charles Schwab, and John D. Rockefeller. If you are unfamiliar with the term, let me explain. These men were given the name Robber Barons by Matthew Josephson during the Great Depression. He depicted them as tycoons of big business; the faces of major industries comprised of greed, competition, and more importantly, wealth.
Beginning soon after the Civil War, an industrial revolution was rumbling in the background. Machinery gave companies the ability to mass-produce their product and make large profits. Eventually, as some people think, big business running the market where Government barely intervened led to the Panic of 1907 and the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
As I mentioned above, in 1934 Josephson coined the phrase and labeled men like Vanderbilt, Carnegie and Rockefeller as Robber Barons. Men that take money from the weak and the poor. In my recent research, I have seen an uptick in positive information about the ‘robber barons,’ mostly in works published after what our generation knows as the financial crash of 2008. The most recent being the History Channel’s “Men who built America” series (which was amazing!).
I worry constantly that we do not think about our history and how it repeats in different forms. Why are we trying to glorify the tycoons of industry from the Gilded Age as the financial crisis from 2008 still looms? Was “too big to fail” evident then? Are we not being hypocritical to look over a hundred years in the past at big business (in favor almost) but not look at what is in our backyard and what possibly caused the Real Estate bubble, the banking issues, AIG and the major car manufacturer’s collapse?
As states petition the government to secede from the country, I leave this open for discussion. Should we blame the President or should we blame ourselves for letting history repeat?