HOWROBBER BARONS BECAME ROBIN HOODS
Most of this – from Jobs’ planned obsolescence to Schmidt’s romance with the Chinese government to Sandberg’s clueless classism – is fine by me. I would rather sleep in a nest of copperheads than live in Zuckerberg’s utopian community, but he certainly has the right to build it and encourage his employees to settle in. Business people should legally and ethically do what they have to do to protect and advance their businesses. But then, I’m a fan of rapacious capitalism – capitalism red in tooth and claw, the less regulated the better. I’m entitled to approve of rapacious capitalists. What’s jarring is when anti-capitalists approve along with me, or at least happily ignore the unpleasantness in approving the capitalists who rely on it. Only a premeditated act of will can keep a left-wing journalist from noting the resemblance of his current heroes bear to the old robber barons. It helps, of course, that these tech titans are Democrats. They share, or at least publicly profess, the same progressive sympathies of journalists and others on the left. This alone may explain the free ride. But a comparison of our present-day, not-a-robber barons with the original 19th century robber barons is instructive too.
These were men who violently built things amid roars of smoke and fire, producing and selling wares of gross physicality. What are their products compared with the ethereal time-waster Facebook or the slimly elegant iPad? Google’s robber barons called their first product a search engine , perhaps in unconscious emulation of a distant era when capitalists drilled and pumped and manufactured things . Vroom, vroom, goes the search engine. As Victor Davis Hanson, the great historian of the classical world, has said, we can’t “drink Facebook, eat Google, drive on Oracle, or live in Apple.” But perhaps that’s precisely what makes our new robber barons so appealing to their admirers. A capitalism detached from the physical helps lift us higher and higher above the workers who make things and grow things and dirty their hands, as they did under Carnegie and Rockefeller. Under our new robber barons, such people are rendered obsolete – or at least moved offshore and out of sight. Which is the way the anti-business business writer likes it.
Andrew Ferguson is the author of several books, including Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His
How grubby they must look to the progressive mind – Rockefeller’s oil
Kid into College. He is a former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush and a current senior editor at The Weekly Standard.
wells, Carnegie’s steel plants, the railroad locomotives of Crocker and Huntington belching soot across the pristine landscape.
32 | August 2017
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