Dennis O’Neil: Robber Barons, Then and Now
Where have you gone, Mr. Potter? Oh – I see. You’re over there with your chums Goldfinger, Scrooge and his pseudo-doppelganger, Scrooge McDuck and, oh look! It’s Uncle Pennybags, stepping away from the Monopoly board. And what’s causing that breeze?. Somebody left the portal between fiction and history open and look who’s coming through! People who at one time actually existed: John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller… on goes the list.
That last bunch, the ones who had birth certificates, are sometimes labeled “robber barons” and now you’ll allow me to quote from the invaluable Wikipedia: “In social criticism and economic literature, Robber barons became a derogatory term applied to… powerful 19th century businessmen,,, who used what were considered to be exploitative practices to amass their wealth. These practices included exerting control over national resources, accruing high levels of government influence, paying extremely low wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors in order to create monopolies and eventually raise prices, and schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors in a manner which would eventually destroy the company for which the stock was issued and impoverish investors.”
But really. Were these guys actually so bad? Did they deserve to have writers of both fiction and non-fiction portray them as ruthless greed-heads? Is the stereotype justified?
I’m afraid so.
According research reported by psychologist Daniel Goleman “condescending or dismissive behavior… suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States… In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful
In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.
So ol’ Captain Leftie is doing the Mother Teresa tap dance? Not guilty. Around these parts, all morality derives from the desired survival of the race. Huggy love is fine but in the end breathing is what’s important and the Old Ones who lived long enough to pass on genes learned the value of cooperation, a value that seems to be vanishing from our 21st. century grouches.
I didn’t build the house I’m sitting in and don’t even get me started about computers.
And no, I don’t believe the poor deserve their lot, especially not the children.
Something else… Oh yeah – happy new year.
FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases
SATURDAY MORNING: Marc Alan Fishman
SUNDAY MORNING: John Ostrander