It is the height of egotism to quote one’s self in the quote of the day, but guilty as charged and here goes. This is a comment and response to today’s SLL article by Robert Gore, “The Magnificent Eleven,” from The Burning Platform, where the article was also posted.
From TBP commentor Dolphin:
You left out the parts about the “robber barons”, striking workers being gunned down by hired thugs, sweatshop conditions giving rise to books like “The Jungle”, 72-hour work weeks, Indian genocide, and repeated financial panics in 1873, 1893, and 1907. And while we’re talking about FDR, I’m guessing you think he pursued the policies he did because he was an evil man. The facts that the depression was already in its fourth year, was steadily worsening, and showed no signs of letting up when he took office aren’t a consideration.
And perhaps we should also overlook the fact that the US still had an open frontier in the 19th century, at least once we had shot, hanged, starved, infected with deadly diseases, or otherwise “relocated” its former inhabitants, so land on which to expand was plentiful. And we can conveniently fail to notice that the low-hanging fruit of the industrial revolution was ripe for the plucking and that industrial processes required huge amounts of cheap manpower. Or even cheaper child power, depending on the demands of the industry.
Now I’m no fan of the widespread government, corporate, and financial abuses that abound today. But I know better than to romanticize the era you are describing. Its impressive advances came at a terrible price for a brutally subjugated working class whose every attempt to better their lot was met with officially condoned violence.
More to the point, this isn’t the 19th century. It’s the 21st century. Our population density is nearly ten times what it was in 1870. In 1870, only 1/4 of the population lived in urban areas. Today, 83% of the population is urban. Just look at the 2016 electoral map if you think that urban and rural people don’t put different demands on government services.
In short, get real. If you want to actually contribute something constructive to the conversation, talk about specific steps that can be taken to get us from where we are to where you think we should be. Romanticizing an era that’s a century and a half removed from our own and that in real terms offered most people less opportunity than they have today is disingenuous, and a little pathetic.
Response from Robert Gore:
America from the Civil War to World War I was far from perfect. It was, however, the best option for the millions who came here. There’s no denying deplorable conditions in slums, some, but not all, factories, and miserable tenant farms, but they were better than conditions from where the immigrants came, or they wouldn’t have come. Before the Industrial Revolution 99.999 percent of humanity lived on the edge of subsistence. You don’t go from widespread poverty to widespread affluence overnight. The period in question raised American real per capita incomes a greater percentage in a shorter time than any period before or since. Go read anything, fiction or nonfiction, written before this time and see if you can find the term “middle class.” It wasn’t until this time that a recognizable middle class emerged, sneeringly refered to by Marx and acolytes as the bourgeois. You say the working man’s “every” attempt to better his situation was met by armed force and violence. While attempts to unionize were sometimes met that way, millions who “resorted” to ambition and hard work bettered their situation.
I’ve read Matthew Josephson’s Robber Barons twice. I’ve also read Burton Folsom’s Myth of the Robber Barons for the other side of the story. Josephson tars everyone with the same brush, and ignores the virtues necessary to start and build innovative and prosperous companies. Yes, there were sweatshops, primarily in minimally profitable industries. John D. Rockefeller’s very profitable Standard Oil was a model of workplace safety, environmental protection (he reused refining byproducts, like gasoline, that other Cleveland refiners were dumping in the Cuyahoga River), paid well, offered his employees stock (many of them became millionaires), and built the world’s biggest and most profitable company. He drove the price of kerosene from 80 to 4 cents a gallon, enabling millions of ordinary people, who formerly couldn’t afford whale oil or kerosene, to stay up past sundown. Would everything he did pass muster by today’s standards? Undoubtedly not; Standard Oil was the impetus for the Sherman Act. The non-romanticized truth about Rockefeller, good and bad, is available in Ron Chernow’s excellent biography, Titan. Whatever his flaws, Rockefeller was a builder, not a thief. The wealth and jobs he created far outweigh whatever you might consider his depredations (although I don’t like what he did politically after he retired).
You mention our shameful history with native Americans. Let me mention another “Robber Baron,” James J. Hill. The slaughter of Native Americans is a blight on our history, but that was done by government, not the “extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people and the giants of the Industrial Revolution” I extoll. Most of the treaties we abrogated were between native Americans and either the federal government or the government-sponsored transcontinental railroads. Hill built the Great Northern railroad, running from Minneapolis to Northwest Pacific Coast. He accepted no land grants or funding from the federal government (he didn’t want the strings) and his railroad was entirely privately funded. He scrupulously observed every agreement and right-of-way he negotiated with various Native American tribes. Railroad building being dangerous work, especially in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, he offered some of the highest wages available for such labor. The Great Northern was by far the best built line in America during this time, and is still the core of the Burlington Northern, which Warren Buffett scooped up at a bargain price after the financial crisis. The Great Northern was the only railroad of its size to never go bankrupt; all of the government sponsored, crony-socialistic boondoggle railroads did so at least twice. Yet Josephson excoriates Hill for not giving what Josephson considers a “fair” price to a group of Dutch investors when Hill took over the defunct line that Hill built into the Great Northern. Probably not one in a thousand Americans even know who Hill was.
Was Hill a robber baron? Rockefeller? Edison? Bell? Deere? McCormack? Ford? Carnegie? Vanderbilt? The Wright Brothers? If they were, they were a strange kinds of robbers who gave away appreciable portions of their fortunes.
What did FDR ever build? What did he offer to America’s true builders but obstructions? Yes, he took over a nation that had been in the Great Depression for three years. The measures he championed and enacted extended it another seven and set us on the road to ruin. Was FDR evil? “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
As for population densities, what do they have to do with anything? One of the most remarkable capitalism success stories has been Hong Kong (the PRC will eventually ruin it), and it has one of the highest population densities in the world.
You want something constructive, you want specific steps that can be taken. I’ll tell you want I want, something I’ve never had. I want to take my talents, skills, energy, and willingness to work hard, make my way, keep every dime I earn, and not a dime I don’t. I don’t want to feed, clothe, educate, or in any way contribute to the wellbeing of anyone who demands that I do so because it’s my supposed duty, or their political hencemen and enablers. I will support any measure that reduces taxes or regulations, reduces the size and power of any level of government, and allows people to keep even a little more of their own time and money for themselves. I want my freedom, my inalienable birthright as a human being. And I meant exactly what I said in my last paragraph about anybody who wants to curtail it or take it away.