Neoliberalism and neoliberals
have various other labels: globalization, corporatism, flat worlders, neocons, neoconservatives and the one I prefer, the new Robber Barons. They stand for a form of laissez-faire capitalism,* which only they, like members of a church, tout
as the way and path—reason and evidence are damned. The phrase, robber baron, was used to describe the situation that existed in many parts of the world. Common to many regions consisting of small fifes, the local young men under the head of a chief would exact
from a group of travels a fee for passing through their territory. Robber
baron in this country was first applied to railroad magnates. It appears
in an 1880 anti-monopoly pamphlet for farmers in the Kansas region. It soon was extended to the powerful U.S. capitalists of the late 19th century
who in the pursuit of wealth exploited labor, formed alliances with legislators and judges, manipulated financial and trade
markets, polluted the environment, and eliminated competition. Their goal was
to maximize profits. This label for leading capitalists continued in common usage
until the 1950s.
the written history of a war devoting considerable space to the generals, similarly is the history of U.S. industrialization following the
Civil War about the Robber Barons. The ruthless tactics of these barons of trade
were described by the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Veblen compared the powerful industrialists and bankers
to the barbaric barons, for they lived off the spoils of conquest. Their care
of and for their workers he compared to that of farmers to their farm animals. He
also devoted considerable space to the conspicuous consumption of the leisure class.
Wit and insight made his book a best seller; and it became required reading for several generations of college students.
journalist Matthew Josephson in 1934 wrote the Robber Barons, another bestseller (still in print) that exposed their
world. He stressed their business practices and in the last chapters their
conspicuous consumption. I borrowed this book from my elementary school library,
and 30 years later from a local library.
changed that much, except the consciousness of the masses, for now we don’t call the CEO’s of major corporations robber barons. The robber-baron era is a history that our
corporate press has rewritten. The continuing abuses chronic to capitalism are barely covered in their press. There has been a de-evolution of mass consciousness: conspicuous consumption and robber barons ought to still be in common
usage. That which is against the common weal ought to be a pressing concern of
the common people.
*Adam Smith was not one of them, and the usage they make of him is totally unjustified.
As given in lecture by noted British Economics Professor
Popular writing in this connection is far below the
zero of knowledge or common decency. On this plain not only is any real knowledge
of the classical writers nonexistent, but their place has been taken by a set of mythological figures passing by the same
names, but not infrequently invested with attitudes almost the exact reverse which the originals adopted. These dummies are very malignant creatures indeed. They are
the tools or lackeys of the capitalist exploiters. I think that has the authentic
stylistic flavor. They are extremely indifferent to the well being of the working
classes. Hence when a writer today wishes to present his own point of view in
a special favorable setting, he has only to point to these constructs with the attitude of these reprehensible people and
the desired effect is produced. You’d be surprised how many well-known
authors who have resorted to this device.—Lionel Robins—1939, Lectures for the London School of Economics. Found in Books on Tape Disc II, track 1, 1:30
ff., The English Classical Economists.
The English classical economists included the 2 great
Scottish philosophers David Hume and Adam Smiths, and their followers. Among their followers are Thomas Malthus,
David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill. Smith was a champion of the masses.
He observed that whenever government interfered with free trade it was at the behest of a special interest group, and
the burden of such legislation fell heavily upon the laboring poor through higher prices.
He was deeply moved by their plight. If government followed Jeremy Bentham’s
standard of utilitarianism and thus promoted the common weal as their primary duty, Smith would have written much differently,