Getting off the psychological trend, I want to discuss another subject. If you are any kind of student of history, you will understand the phrase “robber baron.” If you don’t, let me give you a quick overview.
The phrase originated in the Holy Roman Empire (HRE), although there were some of those same unethical nobles in other countries as well. As you can see by the map, the HRE covered quite a lot of territory in Europe. And because of this, there were quite a few nobles who decided they could go ahead and levy taxes on merchants moving through their territories, whether by river or by roads. Because of this deeply unethical behavior and business practices, this phrase has defined assorted business practices as unethical, immoral and exploitative.
At the turn of the last century, assorted different supposed “Captains of Industry” were defined as “robber barons.” Just like the nobles in the Holy Roman Empire, they made their fortunes using unethical, immoral and exploitative business practices.
There are many who believe that these men – both those during the later 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s (including the Great Depression) as well as our new set of “robber barons” or as we put it in our current situation, “the 1%” – should be considered “captains of industry” simply because they are financially successful.
I disagree. There are those in the 1% who have been financially successful, but accumulated their wealth in ways that are moral, ethical and give value back to the people of America. Making money, being wealthy isn’t the issue here. Financial success isn’t the only criteria. But, HOW someone makes their fortune is the problem.
In the 1900s, our government chose to enact laws to make such unethical and exploitative activities illegal, in response to the actions of men like these. Those laws included banning child labor, banning types of exploitative adult labor, anti-trust laws and anti-monopoly laws. These came out of an understanding of the ideals under which our country was founded. Allowing the rich to use ANY means by which to become financially successful spit in the face of our founders.
Sadly, this didn’t stop the unscrupulous rich business people. No, instead, they retreated behind their corporate walls, and bided their time until the political scene again agreed that the rich should be able to use any means by which to gain power and money. Now, we have parts of the government OWNED outright by these same individuals. Bills getting rid of regulation, repealing the anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws (or destroying their usefulness with legal precident allowing those same exploitative activities to be legal again. Hell, we even now have a ruling that makes corporations into “corporate citizens” with the same rights as “real people.”
And we now have people like Martin Shkreli, Charles and David Koch, John Schnatter and Donald Trump. Just like the other robber barons shown in the above image, they have philanthropical foundations, but they make their money using unethical practices and exploitative activities. No human is ever completely evil nor completely good. So, just because they have good things they put their money into does not mean that they aren’t unethical. Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie all did wonderful things with their foundation. But, it doesn’t make their unethical activities suddenly “good.”
We’re the ones who have let this happen. And it is going to require US to take our country back.