Nov 3, 2007

Tom DiLorenzo on the claim that government subsidies were needed to build American industry

The lesson here is that most historians are hopelessly confused about the rise of capitalism in America. They usually fail to adequately appreciate the entrepreneurial genius of men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, and more often than not they lump these men (and other market entrepreneurs) in with genuine "robber barons" or political entrepreneurs.

Most historians also uncritically repeat the claim that government subsidies were necessary to building America's transcontinental railroad industry, steamship industry, steel industry, and other industries. But while clinging to this "market failure" argument, they ignore (or at least are unaware of) the fact that market entrepreneurs performed quite well without government subsidies. They also ignore the fact that the subsidies themselves were a great source of inefficiency and business failure, even though they enriched the direct recipients of the subsidies and advanced the political careers of those who dished them out.

Political entrepreneurs and their governmental patrons are the real villains of American business history and should be portrayed as such. They are the real robber barons.

At the same time, the market entrepreneurs who practiced genuine capitalism, whose genius and energy fueled extraordinary economic achievement and also brought tremendous benefits to Americans, should be recognized for their achievements rather than demonized, as they so often are. Men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt were heroes who improved the lives of millions of consumers; employed thousands and enabled them to support their families and educate their children; created entire cities because of the success of their enterprises (for example, Scranton, Pennsylvania); pioneered efficient management techniques that are still employed today; and donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities and nonprofit organizations of all kinds, from libraries to hospitals to symphonies, public parks, and zoos. It is absolutely perverse that historians usually look at these men as crooks or cheaters while praising and advocating "business/government partnerships," which can only lead to corruption and economic decline.

~ Thomas J. DiLorenzo, "The Truth About the 'Robber Barons',", September 23, 2006, excerpted from How Capitalism Saved America, chapter 7

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