Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Robber Barons

I'm finally reading Matthew Josephson's The Robber Barons, a book I never felt I needed to read. That was a bad decision. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but I can tell this is a book worth reading because it will shed some needed light on the alleged golden era of laissez faire, roughly 1865-1890. Here's yet another case where libertarian revisionist history needs to be revised. So far it confirms a suspicion that has grown on me only recently (I must confess): Much of what went on in that era appears to have been the fruit of the poisonous tree, namely, Civil War contracting and currency speculation. Civil War is the health of the State and privileged partners in the business world. This was capitalism as it played out historically -- but it was not the free market.

By the way, the 1962 reprint I found has a blurb on the back by none other than Henry Hazlitt, who reviewed the book in the New York Times Book Review. Hazlitt wrote that Josephson "is particularly to be congratulated upon the lucidity with which he sets forth the complex financial transactions and the uncanny legerdemain by which most of the barons built up their fortunes." Did Hazlitt know something Ayn Rand did not?

More to come as I make my way through the book.

3 comments:

bile said...

Yeah... even without that book (which I've not read but my have to) there is plenty of evidence that those days were far from the free market. It was more dynamic and more free in some ways but certainly not laissez faire. I liked Rothbard's History of Money and Banking for some good examples regarding the banking industry.

Edward said...

I found the blurb too. I wonder if it is possible to find the whole review.

Unprivileged said...

How about vulgar libertarian claims that the 19th Century was the closest laissez-faire economy that have ever existed in America? Is this true? If not then, what was the closest laissez-faire economy that have ever existed in the US?