"CAPITALIST FOOLS: Tales of American Business, from Carnegie to Forbes to the Milken Gang" by Nicholas von Hoffman

"CAPITALIST FOOLS: Tales of American Business, from Carnegie to Forbes to the Milken Gang"

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A scattershot rant whose targets range from feckless CEOs and venal Wall Streeters through conspicuous consumers. Using the righteous B.C. Forbes and his high-living son Malcolm (of Forbes magazine fame) as models, von Hoffman (Organized Crimes, 1984, etc.) offers a discontinuous critique of American commerce over the past 150 years or so. His working premise seems to be that the captains of US industry aren't what they used to be--and that the country is the worse for it. Von Hoffman glorifies such pioneering capitalists as Andrew Carnegie, Pierre du Pont, J.P Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, David Sarnoff, Charles Schwab, Alfred Sloan, Theodore Vail, and Thomas Watson, Sr., while heaping scorn on their contemporary counterparts. The author's latter-day whipping boys include the likes of William Agee, Harold Geneen, Armand Hammer, Carl Icahn, Henry Kravis, Carl Lindner, Michael Milken, T. Boone Pickens, Jr., and Steven Ross. Asserting that, for all their faults, yesteryear's avatars of free enterprise left society richer than they found it, von Hoffman accuses today's professional managers and financial speculators of focusing on the main chance. Among other consequences, he charges, the opportunism pervading domestic business has helped create an entertainment-oriented generation more concerned with celebrity and glamour than accomplishment. Indeed, the author warns, the nation ""has come close to turning itself into a huge Kuwait."" Whatever the merits of von Hoffman's notion that Big Business has precipitated a decline in initiative, he doesn't make much of a case for it. Save for one brief allusion to Microsoft's William Gates, for example, the author all but ignores the impact of microelectronic technology on the modern era. A one-note harangue, then, that sounds more like Miniver Cheevy than Jeremiah.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Doubleday