The growth of the US economic status to its current state has had several landmarks. One of these was the emergence of the Robber Barons in the mid 1800s. The Robber Barons were a handful of powerful business leaders who arose in every line of business in the 1850s. These leaders dominated businesses and became dazzled their fellow businessmen. Through their personalities, talents, ambitions and tactics these business leaders ruled the economic landscape and endowed their age with many of their personal characteristics (Heilbroner & Aaron, 156). Their reign was characterized by predatory habits of feudal lords through the imposition of ransoms and tolls from those who moved into their domains.
The age in which these powerful business leaders ruled came to be called as the Age of the Robber Barons. One of the most famous Robber Barons was known as Jay Gould who historians termed as “the most money-minded man in the money-minded age” (Heilbroner & Aaron, 157). Gould was a partner in a tanning factory and he later invested heavily in banking and real estate.
Gould and other Robber Barons were significant in the economic foundation of the US. The crude and selfish business tactics of the Robber Barons led to the formation of union movements to fight for rights of laborers and for improved standards of living. The greed of these people led to the reviewing of tax laws and minimum wage. The Robber Barons also affected the operations of the stock market through inflations of stock prices in what came to be known as “watered” stocks (Heilbroner & Aaron, 157). They also exploited labor and were accused of having used child labor in their industries. To date most of the existing labor laws in existence were enacted during the age of the Robber Barons. Through amendments have been made to the labor laws and several economic policies regarding the stack market, they have remained principally the same over the years.
In the modern day there are personalities in fast-growing fields who can be termed as Robber Barons. The mention of Wall Street –home to the world’s largest stock exchanges-New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange, NASDAQ and several others evokes ideas of a clique of personalities who control the US financial market (Rusell). They have been accused of scrupulous business deals that have led to several scandals leading to widespread ramifications on not only the US economy but that of world.
In the 21st century there has emerged a group of billionaires among the top 100 richest people in the world. The unifying factor among several of these people is that they have all invested in Information technology. These people include Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg of facebook, Jeff Bazos of Amazon, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer among several others. Together these people have a net wealth in excess of US$270 billion! People from several quarters have termed these billionaires as robber barons who have accumulated their wealth from “rampant greed” (Rusell)
The rise of Robber Barons is equitable to Social Darwinism which advocated for the idea of “survival of the fittest”. The Robber Barons of the 1850s applied the philosophy of social Darwinism by arguing that the government of the day had no mandate to regulate their business dealings because only the best was supposed to survive. They advocated for a laissez-faire economic and political system that favored self-interest and competition in business and social affairs. They vehemently denied using the “law of the jungle” and argued that the prosperity of the US was pinned on letting only the very best survive. Though Social Darwinism evokes ideas of rejection of social responsibility and compassion it is the force behind capitalism and imperialism in modern day economies.
The emergence of the US as an economic powerhouse has been marked by several significant events. The emergence of the Robber Barons in the mid 1800s was one of them. These were powerful individuals who controlled nearly all areas of business through their character, ambition, talent and tactics. They were significant in that they fueled the formation of trade unions. They also influenced the formation of tax laws, stock market dynamics, and minimum wage among other influences. Several people especially in the lucrative IT industry have been termed as modern day robber barons. These include Bill Gates, Larry Ellison among others. The rise of robber barons can be attributed to adherence to social Darwinism which agitates for “survival of the fittest”.
Heilbroner, Robert L, and Aaron Singer. The Economic Transformation of America: 1600 to the Present. Fort Worth [u.a.: Harcourt Brace College Publ, 1999. Print.
Rusell, Mark. "Tech Moguls: Modern-Day Robber Barons - TheStreet." Stock Market - Business News, Market Data, Stock Analysis - TheStreet. N.p., 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 6 June 2013. <http://www.thestreet.com/story/11604385/1/tech-moguls-modern-day-robber- barons.html>.