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That’s the title of the masterful biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., written by Ron Chernow, who had earlier authored The House of Morgan and The Warburgs.

I highly recommend it for your consideration.

I used to enjoy reading and writing fiction, but after the political, economic and financial upheavals of the past quarter century, it’s easy to imagine that we have stumbled into some kind of fictional construct…one that would have been impossible to have imagined if we had not experienced it at first hand.

That’s why I’ve started mining historical and biographical sources…to try to get grounded and make sense of the changed landscape.

The inescapable conclusion is that America’s emergence as a global power was rooted in the no-holds-barred, capitalist free-for-all that took hold in the nineteenth century, greatly accelerated by the material demands of the Civil War.

This at a time when the federal government was minuscule in scope and ambition compared to the Imperium we now have in Washington.

Imagine…no corporate or personal income tax.  No regulatory agencies.  No constituent group other than stockholders to dictate policy.

Of course it got very ugly when examined closely.

The practices used to build the Standard Oil Colossus would not survive in our time.  The most outrageous example was the notorious “drawback” that Rockefeller forced on the railroads.

This was a rebate on oil shipments…not by Standard Oil affiliates…but by the weaker competitors.  Every shipment they made further enriched Rockefeller’s fortune, while serving to impoverish the smaller and weaker competition.  It was diabolically inspired…and served to hasten the demise of the smaller firms.

What most surprised me was the portrait of Rockefeller that emerged…as a superb judge of talent, and one who delegated widely and deeply to nurture the talent required to operate the world’s first multinational corporation.

This is all the more amazing, when one realizes that he was but an average student, whose passion was bookkeeping.

His lodestone was his absolute devotion to the enterprise of becoming the world’s wealthiest man.

You may not agree with or admire his methods.

But Rockefeller and the other Robber Barons brought forth the framework for the superpower economy that we are now in the process of dismantling…in the name of fairness and redistribution of wealth.

Without their rapacious drive for dominance, there would be scant pickings for today’s Lilliputian levelers to divvy up.

2 Responses to Titan

  1. Toli

    “Without their rapacious drive for dominance, there would be scant pickings for today’s Lilliputian levelers to divvy up.”

    And there would be much less social inequalities — with the associated societal ills they cause (crime, corruption, drugs, you name it) — to need fixing.

    The legacy of these titans is both the superpower economy and a society in deep trouble. Their elixir begat both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In other words, the so-called “levelers” (who attempt to cure Mr. Hyde) are as much an inevitable consequence of their actions as this superpower economy.

  2. J. Quintana

    Yeah, BUT…

    With today’s technology and capital, businesses could and would exploit resources to the point of near universal human misery.

    No regulation means polluted air, water, and soil. Short nasty wage-slave for all but the few crabs who make it out of the barrel.

    Racism and sexism unchecked, stunting our intellectual development.

    No national parks – why leave all those redwoods unpulped?!

    Yeah, it would be great to have our 1880’s government back…if your last name is Rockefeller, Morgan, or Vanderbilt.