Gould, Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan, those legendary robber barons, weren’t so bad after all, says financial writer Morris (Money, Greed, and Risk, 1999, etc.).
Our able guide to the industry of the Gilded Age, unlike many before him, doesn’t find mountains of muck to rake. The fabled wheeler-dealers—Jay and John D., J. P. and Andrew—are presented as intelligent, resolute and often honest. Well, the honest part never really fit Carnegie, whom Morris brands as hypocritical and mendacious. From the end of the Civil War to the turn of the century, this quartet comprised the nation’s commercial avatars. Gould, with comical Jim Fisk, mined the gold. Rockefeller drilled the oil. Morgan sold the government’s guns to the government. (It was later that he saved the country from disaster as “de facto central banker.”) Carnegie, dominating steel, looked the other way during the unpleasantness of the Homestead Strike. It was an era of huge factory farms (“bonanza farms,” they were called) and of offices brimming with paperwork. In a time when steel, not silicone, nourished America’s growth, railroads and department stores flourished. And these four men, with their like-minded associates, managed it all. Perhaps inequality of wealth was great, but, as Morris notes, “it is even higher today.”
<\b>Best appreciated by those who know the difference between debentures and dentures.