Applause for John D. Rockefeller

by Don Boudreaux on December 3, 2011

in Antitrust, Books, Competition, Creative destruction, Energy, History

Recently I read Ron Chernow’s Titan, his 1998 biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  Not surprisingly, the economics that Chernow uses to analyze Standard Oil’s business practices is unsophisticated and uninformed.  (For example, John McGee’s classic 1958 and 1980 papers on Standard Oil and predatory pricing aren’t mentioned.)  But Chernow’s writing is smooth and well-paced, and his treatment of Rockefeller – the man, husband, brother, father, grandfather, businessman, philanthropist, reviled public figure – is fair.

Old John comes across – even in the telling of Chernow, who regards Rockefeller’s vigorous competitiveness as a business executive to have been a serious moral flaw – as having been a deeply good man.  Rockefeller had about him a not a whiff of arrogance or ostentation.  (If Bob Frank’s hypothesis of work and consumption is correct, Rockefeller stands as a notable exception to that hypothesis.)  Rockefeller was kind, forgiving and tolerant of others’ faults, enormously generous, intelligent, prudent, loyal to friends and family, and never venal or petty or vindictive.  His employees, from top to bottom, seemed genuinely fond of him.  (At one point in the book, Chernow marvels that a man so focused on making his firm as profitable as possible also paid his employees generously, never fired them save for egregious offenses, and treated them kindly in other regards.)

The only real enemies Rockefeller had were rival oil refiners (and some of their muckraking children); politicians (such as the obnoxious, and noxious, T.R.) and pundits who neither understood what Rockefeller was about nor cared except insofar as they could use him – or his image – as a whipping boy to advance their own careers and agendas; and his irresponsible, envious, and utterly ungrateful brother Frank.

I’m not sure that Rockefeller would have been exciting company.  He was, for his entire life, a devout Baptist who sternly disapproved of drinking, dancing, the theater.  (I, personally, loathe dancing – ’cause I’m lousy at it; I rather like the theater; and I’m enormously fond of drinking.)  And he seemed to have few intellectual interests.  But Rockefeller nevertheless had a genuine sense of humor and, obviously, enormous natural smarts about people and business matters (although he was, I was surprised to learn, not a very good investor).

Rockefeller is, and ought to be, one of the great monuments to the bourgeois virtues.

……

I conclude my little ode to J.D. Rockefeller, Sr., with the two most frustrating passages in Chernow’s book.  The first appears at the top of page 258 while the second appears in the middle of page 259; they are symptoms of the misunderstanding that still reigns about Rockefeller and Standard Oil in particular, and about competition and monopoly in general:

On balance, the [Standard Oil] trust wielded its monopolistic power to keep prices artificially low to forestall competition.

….

A very smart monopolist, Rockefeller kept prices low enough to retain control of the market and not so low as to wipe out all lingering competitors.

Re-read these above sentences; ponder what Chernow here says.

Indeed, Standard Oil drove kerosene prices down and keep them low.  But, of course, that fact screams not “monopoly!” but “competition!

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{ 87 comments }

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Indeed, Standard Oil drove kerosene prices down and keep them low. But, of course, that fact screams not “monopoly!” but “competition!“

Boudreaux cites self, agrees with self. Hangs refinery engineering degree on the wall next to his atmospheric science degree.

Sam Grove December 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm

There are rarely singular interpretation of events, though that doesn’t stop the left from pretending otherwise.

Competition, either existing or latent, is sufficient to explain the drive to lower prices. The explanation you hold is part of the dialog long espoused by the left to attack private enterprise.

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Funny you should mention ‘singular interpretation[s] of events’, the world you and Don inhabit is such an inbred hothouse garden (with Exxon paying for for the heat) that you can’t recognize when the kool-aid you are drinking tastes funny:

http://i.imgur.com/gE24I.png

You’re falling for an advertising campaign, Sam. It’s no more real than McDonaldland or the Valley of the Green Giant.

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Funny that I should mention ‘singular interpretation[s] of events’, the world I and my political handlers inhabit is such an incestuous inbred whorehouse (with Soros paying for our pleasure) that we can’t recognize when the kool-aid we are drinking tastes funny (how’s THAT for an incredibly inept and mixed metaphor??). We also receive support from the following communist organizations that operate freely in the United States:

All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP)
Alliance Marxist-Leninist (North America)
American Indian Movement – Grand Governing Council (AIM-GGC)
American Indian Movement – International Federation of Autonomous Chapters (AIM-IFAC)
Barrio Union (Unión del Barrio)
Black Radical Congress (BRC)
Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP)
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)
Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA)
Communist Voice Organization
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
For a Better World
Freedom Road Socialist Organization [Fight Back] (FRSO)
Freedom Road Socialist Organization [Freedom Road] (FRSO)
Freedom Socialist Party (FSP)
Green Party of the United States, mirror page, other page
Heatwave Communist-Anarchist Federation (Heatwave CAF)
Independent Progressive Politics Network (IPPN)
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
International Socialist Organization (ISO)
Internationalist Group
Internationalist Notes, other page, Los Angeles Workers Voice
Labor Party (LP)
Labor Standard, mirror page
Labor’s Militant Voice, mirror page
League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP)
League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA)
Left Green Network
Left Party
Left Turn
Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM)
National Black United Front (NBUF)
New Democracy
New Liberty Party
New Party
New Union Party
News & Letters Committees
Organizing Committee for the Program of Permanent Revolution
Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), periodical Partisan Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (PFOC)
Progressive Labor Party (PLP), other page
Progressive ProAction Party
Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) periodical Revolutionary Worker
Revolutionary Workers League (RWL)
Social Democrats USA (SDUSA)
Socialist Action
Socialist Alternative
Socialist Equality Party (SEP)
Socialist Labor Party (SLP)
Socialist Organizer
Socialist Party USA (SPUSA)
Socialist Workers Organization (SWO) periodical Socialist Viewpoint
Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) periodical Militant Solidarity, mirror page
The Greens/Green Party USA, mirror page
United People’s Party (La Raza Unida Party)
United States Pacifist Party (USPP)
Unity Organizing Committee (UOC) unofficial page
US Marxist-Leninist Organization (USMLO) periodical Voice of Revolution
Vermont Progressive Party
Workers Democracy Network
Workers International League (WIL), youth organization
Workers Party U.S.A.
Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA)
Workers World Party (WWP)
Working Families Party (WFP)
World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS)

Sam Grove December 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I understood this long before even there was an internet.

You have fallen for the oldest advertising campaign of all, you were subject to it all through school. You are so imbued with it that you are unaware that it is so.

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm

What’s that?

Sam Grove December 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Fish, notice water.

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm

/john houseman

“Can you state that more clearly Mr. Hart?

Sam Grove December 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm

1 Submission to hierarchy and authority
2 Political control of resources

SmoledMan December 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Your trolling isn’t working. Also appeals to authority show inherent flaws in your argument.

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I post myself, repeat myself, troll myself, and play with myself.

I also carry a CPUSA membership card with myself at all times.

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm

You read my posts (carefully!) so that makes me feel good.

Invisible Backhand December 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm

My new gravatar not only protects me from impostors, but it’s actually a picture of one of my handlers. I love it when the hairy brute shoves a big wooden coat-hanger up by butt (carefully!) — so that makes me feel good.

Then I sit down (carefully!), all mellow and content, and troll away.

SmoledMan December 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Hey Invisible Moron – ask yourself why wouldn’t Standard Oil gouge their customers if they had a monopoly? Isn’t it the job of every company to make MAX profit for the short term to satisfy investors?

jpm December 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm

It was Standard Oil that was the basis for all of the hideous antitrust law as we have today, but as I have understood it, Rockefeller used his railroad franchise ruthlessly to monitor his competitor’s businesses and at the same time undercut them out of existence. In as much as the railroad was a monopoly that was granted to him by the state, to the exclusion of other competition, his was a situation that was not a natural monopoly and was an abuse of power arising not from free enterprise, but from the state. I think the legislature that arose from his abuses was then used to undermine legitimate free market monopoly firms.

Don Boudreaux December 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm

In fact, a more important spark for U.S. antitrust legislation in the late 19th century was the centralized butchering companies – especially that of Gustavus Swift – that emerged in Chicago starting in the late 1870s. Local butchers and independent cattle ranchers, who suddenly found themselves losing market share quickly to the efficient centralized slaughterhouses, were quite adept at securing political sympathy, despite the fact that the only offense committed against these local butchers and independent ranchers was that more-efficient producers were out-competing them.

The railroad story is very much different from the version you relate here (although your version is closer to the story told in popular history). The economist Dominick Armentano has done some especially good work on this matter.

Ryan Vann December 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Concurred, Rockefeller was a political gangster.

jpm December 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Thank you IB for your insighful ad hominem.

Methinks1776 December 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm

What I remember from my long ago reading of “The Prize” is that at the height of its monopoly power, Standard Oil’s market share never exceeded 90%. At its height. Oil, is a global commodity – readily barreled up and shipped from anywhere in the world to anywhere else in the world. Standard was always under threat of competition from both domestic and international producers.

jpm December 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm

“readily shipped” that is restricted by the state was the hamper as I was taught to understand it. Don has pointed out that my interpretation has been colored by populist culture historical rewrite. (I have always suspected that the real story of Standard Oil was a rewrite)

Methinks1776 December 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

When I read about Rockefeller in The Prize, I was surprised that the narrative didn’t match the one I’d learned. The section on Standard Oil was pretty neutral on Rockefeller and included (without challenge) much some of the charges against him by competitors and the evil Ida Tarbell, but it was a much more favourable picture of the man and the company than the one I was taught. I could feel my respect for him expanding with each page and I couldn’t help the bitterness about the way the government destroyed him. He developed Alopecia, an autoimmune condition often triggered by extreme stress. My interest was the oil industry, not Rockefeller, so I so I never read much more about him except tidbits I happened upon by accident, but from that point on I realized just how much my brain had been washed on the subject.

I suppose he was an easy target. He was stoic, stern and careful and very. People like to have someone smile at them and blow smoke up their behinds. Which is one reasons I think politicians are so successful at ripping them off.

Methinks1776 December 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm

very rich.

Stone Glasgow December 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Yeah but importing oil is almost as evil as a domestic firm that won’t stop lowering its prices.

Methinks1776 December 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm

You know, this country is fast moving toward a future where there will be no greater virtue than successfully abusing each other instead of successfully serving each other.

Some of us have seen what that looks like firsthand and it’s not as romantic as the progressives envision.

Stone Glasgow December 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Gosh, those evil monopolists; why can’t they just stop lowering prices; it’s just not fair! Low prices are bad, just like Walmart.

Stone Glasgow December 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm

“On balance, the [Standard Oil] trust wielded its monopolistic power to keep prices artificially low to forestall competition.”

What does “artificially low” mean? The author implies prices were below cost.

Dan J December 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Thomas Sowell mentions the advancements made by Rockefeller in his books. For instance, the reason why oil is said to be sold by the barrel. It was Rockefeller in his means of transportation that brought it about, and of course, cheaper oil prices for everyone.

Emil December 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm

The threat of new entrants is indeed important but considering that would mean understanding that the economy is dynamic and not a zero-sum game. Not many politicians will do that…

jjoxman December 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Don,

I need some advice from you. Since you’re from New Orleans, and are fond of drinking, what is the one establishment I should visit in your city? I’ll be there end of Feb/start of March.

Merci!

NL_ December 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Given the admission that Standard Oil still had competitors, I wonder what the “mono” in “monopolist” could possibly stand for.

I guess saying “corporation bigger than all its direct competitors” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

NL_ December 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Actually, I guess at that time businesses were still usually formed as trusts, not corporations. So I’ll amend myself to say “business” instead.

Methinks1776 December 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm

That was the first thing that shocked me – that this powerful, maligned monopoly was not a monopoly.

vikingvista December 4, 2011 at 4:19 am

Politicians manufacture monopoly scape goats in their efforts to expand the one true Monopoly.

Peter P. December 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Even Rockefeller was unemployed….
“Each morning, he left his boardinghouse at eight o’clock, clock in a dark suit with a high collar and black tie, to make his rounds of appointed firms. This grimly determined trek went on each day-six days a week for six consecutive weeks”-Page 44

John D. work ethic from the early days…
“Starting each day at 6:30 A.M. he brought a box lunch to the office and often returned after dinner, staying late. One day he decided to throttle his obsession. “I have this day covenanted with myself to be seen in [the office] after 10 o’clock P.M. within 30 days”-Page 49

Scott G December 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Great review Don.

In my twenties, when I read, I almost always read biographies of businessmen, politicians, and scientists. Late in college I read Titan by Ron Chernow.

Your description of Rockefeller matches closely with the image I have of him. The first things that comes to mind when I think of Rockefeller’s personality are: his ritual of eating crackers and milk everyday, his fanaticism about golfing everyday in his retirement nearly to his 98th birthday even in very cold weather, and him returning the fur coat his son gave him as a gift because he considered it too luxurious.

If I were to describe Rockefeller with one word it would be: austere.

Great businessman, but austere in personality. I would much prefer to have dinner with Adam Smith or F.A. Hayek than John D. Rockefeller.

With this said I think John D. Rockefeller created just as much and maybe more freedom than Adam Smith or F.A. Hayek. I’m grateful for people like Rockefeller.

sethstorm December 3, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Freedom for business, not for regular people.

SmoledMan December 3, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Ordinary people hop in their cars for trips, all thanks to the fuel Standard Oil made possible.

The Other Eric December 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Business is opposed to regular people? Because they don’t buy things? Because they don’t work in… businesses?

Jon Murphy December 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm

There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.

Rockefeller seemed to live by these words as if they were delivered by God Himself.

kyle8 December 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Actually there is a second rule. Get a good PR firm, and be a glad hander and an ass kisser, or else the envious will eat you up.

sethstorm December 3, 2011 at 10:20 pm

There would be another good rule for dealing with them – isolate the industrialist from any PR firm or other similar forms of weaponry.

SmoledMan December 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm

OH you mean in a socialist/communist state where John D. Rockefeller would be hanged right?

Stone Glasgow December 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Paying the highest wage possible doesn’t seem logical. Finding the highest quality workers might….

Jon Murphy December 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm

And how do you get the highest quality workers?

Jeff Neal December 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Paying highest wages – more technically I think should be said:

Paying the wages that attract the labor/skill/talents necessary to produce the product demanded by the customer who will pay me more than it costs to deliver his product.

There’s no ‘right’ – there’s only what works. The moral basis of the free market is the concept that its participants only participate on terms that are mutually agreeable and no one is compelled to do anything against his will or his own best interest as HE defines it.

Gil December 3, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Salaries/wages follows the law of supply and demand – there can be times where highly technical work can yield low pay if there’s enough competition while down-to-earth work can be highly paid if there’s not enough competition.

Jon Murphy December 4, 2011 at 8:43 am

Right, which is the whole “highest wage possible.” It means you pay the highest wage you can in order to attract the best workers you can. That doesn’t mean over-paying for workers.

Stone Glasgow December 5, 2011 at 1:42 am

Doesn’t make sense. I would not hire a rocket scientist to work in my restaurant, even if he is the best waiter available and his price is high.

Similarly, I would not hire a very skilled waiter to work the register at a fast-food restaurant. The goal is to find high quality work at the right price, and the workers should not necessarily be the highest skill level. It depends on the quality of the product I aim to create.

Jon Murphy December 5, 2011 at 9:00 am

“The goal is to find high quality work at the right price,”

Exactly right. You want the highest skilled waiter for your waitstaff. You want the highest skilled secretary for your office.

Gil December 3, 2011 at 10:28 pm

“paying the highest wages possible”?!

Every good business operator should be keeping costs to a minimum. As well as employees should be competing to keep their pay to parity.

Jeff Neal December 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm

m

sethstorm December 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm

All you’re doing is just whitewashing a guy through historical revisionism – you’re not much better than Pontius Pilate in your attempt.

Methinks1776 December 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Oh look, another escapee from the nuthouse. Do they know you’re using the computer? Still having wild dreams of world domination?

SmoledMan December 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Hey it’s a hell of a thing trolling the entire internet from mom’s basement.

g-dub December 4, 2011 at 9:57 pm

@methinks

lmao!

sethstorm December 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm

To think that the Soviets used your same tactics and wording to try to squelch dissent. It’s a shame that the USSR’s ways have not completely left you in your journey to the United States.

Methinks1776 December 5, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Yes, I remember well the Soviet tactic of talking to idiot paranoid schizophrenic “dissidents” on the internet.

Mmmm….scary.

Sam Grove December 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm

historical revisionism

Because our government approved text books are (by definition) true to the real history.

Revisionism, today, means researching the history of events to find out if the common interpretation fed to us in school is true or mal-interpretation.

Successful indoctrination renders a subject unwilling to question his/her indoctrinated beliefs.

g-dub December 4, 2011 at 10:00 pm

“progressivism” == closeminded

Joshua Lyle December 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm

You say “revisionism” as if it’s a dirty word, as if we should still be taking everything said by Herodotus as God’s Truth.

CFoz December 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Rockefeller saved the whales!

Mike December 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm

CFoz, you beat me to it.

Rockefeller probably did more than, say, Greenpeace, to save the whales. I first came across this notion through coyote.

tkwelge December 4, 2011 at 1:58 am

Just to test the filter here. I got myself a gram of booger sugar, and I’m going to town. It’s a good once or twice a year thing. Christmas and easter, that sort of thing. Come on, do any of you academic economists get down? Just curious, and haven’t been here in a while.

John Kay December 4, 2011 at 5:28 am

Dear Professor Boudreaux:

A Google feature reported you had quoted from Obliquity and a fact checker said you had not asked for permission.

Having a moment I clicked though to your blog, only to read you mistaking how JDR worked. He did not get where he wanted by lowering prices. He drove his monopoly by using his railroad control to raise the costs of doing business for his competitors. He did not plan for consumers to benefit long run and they did not.

Your followers say they are libertarians. They seem to be only petty little Gekko wannabes.

Your writings show no grasp of economics or reality. We are being crushed by the austerity program you advocate. Krugman just covered this point.

Since you credit my work, why don’t you write a response on your blog to “The Map Is Not the Territory: An Essay on the State of Economics,” my obtain defense of Keynes, which I wrote for George Soros.

http://ineteconomics.org/blog/inet/john-kay-map-not-territory-essay-state-economics

Several others have written responses for comparison

Sincerely,

John Kay

anthonyl December 4, 2011 at 11:30 am

My response is below as PLGW. Damn, stuck it in the wrong field!

brotio December 4, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Sincerely,

John Kay

Dear Mr Kay,

I recently informed this Cafe (without your permission) about the time you and Steppenwolf performed at a concert I was working, and you damn near spit your dentures out at the start of Magic Carpet Ride. Put your teeth back in and sing Born To Be Wild!

muirge0 December 5, 2011 at 12:20 am

“Your followers say they are libertarians. They seem to be only petty little Gekko wannabes.”

Love it

“Your writings show no grasp of economics or reality. We are being crushed by the austerity program you advocate.”

Yep…that’s what I’ve been saying.

From the linked piece I really like;

“There are, nevertheless, many well paid jobs for economists outside academia. Not, any more, in industrial and commercial companies, which have mostly decided economists are of no use to them. Business economists work in financial institutions, which principally use them to entertain their clients at lunch or advertise their banks in fillers on CNBC. Economic consulting employs economists who write lobbying documents addressed to other economists in government or regulatory agencies.”

and

” Economists – in government agencies as well as universities – were obsessively playing Grand Theft Auto while the world around them was falling apart.”

NAILED IT!

” Economists – in government agencies as well as universities – were obsessively playing Grand Theft Auto while the world around them was falling apart.”

El Diablo December 5, 2011 at 12:28 am

Keep Muirgeo here. There are enough stupid Marxists in hell. Sweet Jesus, I don’t need another Useful Idiot.

Dan J December 5, 2011 at 1:22 am

I would be one here, if a reasonable or sound argument in the muirgeo, IB, Marxist, etc.,… Ideology could be made, I might inquire for more info. Bt, alas, they have aide miserably, n every way. It is positively clear that greater GOVT meddling and spending is the exact opposite of what is needed for economic growth that, once again, surpasses the world in the most amount of prosperity and human advancement. Citing Chinese growth rates, is for nitwits. Make strides and gains in a mature, freer capitalistic economy is to be expected and great. To make gains in a Marxist, authoritarian economy, who incorporated some measures of capitalism, in a society of abject poverty is again proof of freer markets but only leaves free market advocates to say ‘DUH!’. Nuthin to get excited about, since the Chinese will pull back on the reigns and ink their own ship.

Josh S December 5, 2011 at 10:36 am

Consumers didn’t benefit from low oil prices?

PLGW December 4, 2011 at 11:24 am

You have some nerve Sir.  First you complain that Prof. Boudreaux quoted you without permission, then say he doesn’t understand economics, then you ask him to comment on your article?
It sounded like you were upset about the appearance of your work on this blog, but no, you just want people to agree with you wherever it shows up.
I have a comment about your article.  Models are always flawed.  That is why economists must leave them behind.  They are not useful for the study of economics because the economy is far too complex to be described by one.  If someone wants to call themselves an economist and can convince someone to pay them for their modeling services, more power to them.  ”God bless” as they say!  
Markets are human activities like a baseball game, they must be played out.  Sports aren’t as interesting when analysts figure out which is the better team in a match, calculate the predicted spread and announce what the outcome was!  No,  both teams must come together and play their best to win the game.  They do not try to match the predicted outcome according to analysts’ expectations.
So it is with markets in that they are activities that are engaged in by humans for the purpose of improving the participants’ position.  There is no goal in it, save for this.  
Who cares if you can’t predict the outcome.  The one true job of economists is figuring out how markets work and how we can make them work better, not how we can obtain certain outcomes from human activity.  Economists should identify the ways markets are harmed or co-opted by groups for their own purposes.  Kind of like the way you do in your book by calling one of the most productive men in history a criminal that harmed people.  That is the line we got from 8th grade history.  You should come out of your government induced fog and asses a person on their merits, not the government rhetoric you so eagerly repeat.  Krugman is a minion bonehead!

Joe Esty December 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I, too, read Titan a couple years ago and was thoroughly impressed by the book and by Rockefeller as businessman and man.

I was reminded of Rockefeller when Steve Jobs died. I was somewhat put off by all the eulogies, praises, hosannas Jobs’ death invoked, because compared to Rockefeller Jobs seemed seriously lacking: Jobs could be mean, petulant, vindictive, petty, and cruel.

In Rockefeller, Chernow reveals a surprisingly kind and generous soul, but a soul so focused, resolute, and confident that it didn’t need to elevate itself by depressing others.

vance armor December 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I think Adam Smith and Frank Knight had a lot to say about the off-putting personal characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, did they not? The idea of the “heroic entrepreneur” is something that has been around since the Reagan years, especially since George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty, which was not serious economics, but really a pastiche of banalities demanding that we praise the wealthy and kick those on their knees. The reason “supply-side economics” had more currency in the Reagan administration than Austrian free market orthodoxy is because of the class-conscious biases within the Republican Party establishment and pundit class. In this case, as in other cases, the Austrians are closer to the Marxists than Chicago positivism or even various Keynesian narratives.

Chernow is a cheerleader for the Progressive Empire, and Don Boudreaux is doing Chernow’s profane work for him by praising his hagiography of Rockefeller. Rockefeller, whose most famous quip was, “Competition is sin,” may have been blessed with some extraordinary personal gifts of thrift and diligence, but cunning and coldness were present in abundance as well. That cunning and coldness shaped the Rockefeller ideology of Progressivism, which manifested itself in his philanthropic institutions, especially the Rockefeller Foundation, which has, on balance, done far more harm to the world than good to the world. From the Rockefeller clan America and the world has been cursed with the promotion of eugenics and the funding of Josef Mengele’s “research.” From the Rockefeller clan America and the world has been cursed with the central conceit of Progressive Imperialism, namely, that there are too many people in the world, and that all-knowing Population Controllers have to author papers such as the Club of Rome report sponsored by the Great Man’s Grandson, David Rockefeller, Sr., one of the most vile human beings alive at present, a horrible cancer on the human race, the Progressive Imperialist run amok, the Grand Old Man of today’s Bilderburgers and the Council on Foreign Relations and every loose and not-so-loose cabal that has morphed the Progressive Empire into a bancocracy — so much so that the “leaders” of Italy (now governed by a Bilderburger insider, Mario Monti) and Greece (also governed by Goldman Sachs) are not even elected officials.

Watch out who you praise, Don. It is just like your constant praise of Wal-Mart for offering lower prices on its products — right, and Wal-Mart lobbied for Obamacare. If you understand Public Choice Theory, then you need no explanation as to why Alice Walton, with her billions and her beautiful art collection, would want to send lobbyists to Washington so that the regulatory monstrosity of Obamacare could be passed by Congress.

But all of this is for naught, now, because the U.S. Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 last week by a 93-7 vote, giving the president the authority to arrest and detain indefinitely anyone, including American citizens, whom the president deems to be a “terrorist.” According to Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder, a “terrorist” is probably someone who posts a blog spot mentioning the Bilderburgers, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bank of International Settlement, and Don Beaudreaux, who twists history to serve the Progressive Empire and its international cabal of bancocrats from Athens and Rome and Basel straight to Ben Bernanke’s tassled loafers.

Methinks1776 December 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Is their any person, living or dead, who is perfect enough to meet your standards for praise, Vance?

vance armor December 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Yes, Methinks. It was the man who said this about the rich, “It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” What Yeshuah of Nazareth said in this instance is profoundly true because it is rare, exceedingly rare, for a wealthy person to be far wealthier than his neighbors without the assistance of (usually state) violence.

vance armor December 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm

This is why I think I am probably the only person on the planet, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, who favors a punitive Moochers Tax, e.g. a 40% surtax on individuals and business entities that report more than one million dollars in gross income IF AND ONLY IF such individuals and business entities more than $100.00 in direct income from any federal, state, municipal or foreign governmental source. Such a proposal is entirely consistent with sound libertarian principles — as a deterrent to state sponsored rent seeking activity. But now — just why is this idea never floated about in “free market circles?” I don’t think Don and Russ are intimidated by Grover Norquist. But the idea of a TAX INCREASE! Close your minds when you hear or see those words!! Yes, a tax increase can free up markets and bring us to laissez-faire if it is done correctly.

vance armor December 4, 2011 at 7:20 pm

should be “report more” than $100.00 in direct income . . . ‘

vance armor December 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Correction: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. Not 2011. 2011 was bad enough, but now the Progressive Empire is officially a totalitarian police state, unless Obama vetoes it. For the past ten years prior to the passage of 2012 NDAA, the Progressive Empire has merely been an unofficial totalitarian police state. No lawyer, no due process of law — just the brig at Leavenworth or Guantanamo or a secret Romanian prison site, with Winston Smith’s rats waiting to eat out his eyeballs. Welcome to the bancocrats’ New World Order.

Paul Marks December 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Folsom and McDonald’s “The Myth of the Robber Barons” (1991 for the most recent edition) is the classic work on John D. Rockefeller and the other great industrialists.

The comment people here are making the classic mistake of confusing Rockefeller with his son (the John D. who made the money was NOT interested in Social Darwinism – that was the university educated son). Ditto the United Nations and so on. The rest of the family are useless as well – although not nearly so powerful (or even so evil) as the paranoid believe.

As for the Federal Reserve – that was created in 1913, after Rockefeller was already the richest man in the world. So it can not (excluding time machines) be the source of his wealth. Although the family became more and more interested in banking – rather than in industry (which had been the love of the father, indeed he had lost real control years before he died in 1938 – the son had taken over).

Of course Rockefeller (the one who built up the business that the others lived off) was not perfect. For example, he backed (although only in a financial sense) the Harrimans (of the Union Pacific) against J.J. Hill (of the Great Northern) – indeed Hill had to ally with J.P. Morgan (there is another name people get paranoid about) to get the H. family to back off and come to terms. And this was not just a financial conflict – Union Pacific employees (whether or not with the knowledge of the H’s) used physical violence (including explosives) to try and undermine the Great Northern – but they did fail.

However, the fact remains that Rockefeller made his money honestly – by providing better quality products at lower prices (if anti Rockefeller people are grinding their teeth at this – go ahead and grind till you hit the gums).

And he was in competition (for example with the Russian oil industry) all the time.

Many of the people who competed with Rockefeller remained rich – but not all of them, and none of them were as rich as he was.

ENVY – this is the source of the spite (and the lies) of the Rockefeller-was-evil myth.

“Preditory priceing” is just B.S. trotted out by people to justify the use of force – such as the break up of Standard Oil.

Let me give you a clue – if a combination really is hitting consumers then “anti trust” is very unlikely to touch it.

What “anti trust” is really for (as even socialist historians – such as Kolko have stated) is to hit companies that offer BETTER deals to customers, so that cosy cartels can be protected.

Yes “anti trust” is about ripping of consumers – not helping them.

That was true even before the term was invented.

After all what do you all think the ICC was for. To break up railroad cartels?

On the contrary – the ICC was used to ENFORCE railroad cartels (which had kept breaking down).

Just as “antitrust” law proved more deadly to J.J. Hill than any bomb or bullet from the Union Pacific people.

sethstorm December 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm

What you describe is nothing more than a failed attempt to wash the robber barons’ hands clean.

You just want to revise history such that businesses can commit unholy actions with no consequences.

Jon Murphy December 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I didn’t realize providing quality goods/services for a low price was unholy. I guess everyone at Goodwill is going right to Hell, then.

Jon Murphy December 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Out of curiosity, how many times will Minos wrap his tail around these particular sinners?

sethstorm December 5, 2011 at 10:53 pm

If you didnt take the revisionist’s version of him being as innocent as the driven snow, and taken the correct version that documents him as a robber baron and influence peddler, you wouldn’t be trying to use the low price excuse.

vance armor December 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Methinks — I agree with much of that, especially what you wrote about J.J. Hill and the ICC and antitrust, but what is wrong with paranoia? After all, didn’t the Master of the Universe Himself, Henry Kissinger, tell a congressional committee that sometimes, just sometimes, even paranoids have real enemies? The senior Rockefeller funded eugenics research before he died in 1938. He got the Progressive ball rolling for his vile “philanthropies.” He is guilty as charged.

vance armor December 4, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Sorry — addressed to Paul Marks, not Methinks. Interesting that you mentioned that Rockefeller, Jr. was the university educated “Social Darwinist.” Before Richard Hofstadter and Talcott Parsons did their smear jobs against Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, it was generally agreed that Progressives in the United States were “Social Darwinists,” rather than advocates of laissez-faire. In fact, the Devil Himself, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, used the terms “Darwinian” and “Darwinism” in favorable rather than pejorative terms in his campaign speeches in the 1912 election. The morphing of the word “Darwinian” when applied to the humane and moral sciences is in my mind an extremely interesting instance of the corruption of language and narrative by collectivists in general and American Progressives in particular.

Dave December 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

I think *this* is the quote of the day: “I, personally, loathe dancing – ’cause I’m lousy at it; I rather like the theater; and I’m enormously fond of drinking.”

Jon Murphy December 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

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