Gaspee on 10 and Robber Barons in the Government


If you haven’t caught Gaspee Project Clay Johnson’s conversation with Bill Rappleye on 10 News Conference, be sure to check it out (in three parts).

Rappleye seemed baffled by some of Clay’s views, but he articulated them very well — better than is often the case.

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One interesting point that I would have taken in a somewhat different direction than Clay was Rappleye’s characterization of “unfettered capitalism” as the playground of robber barons.  Clay’s answer was that a “free market” isn’t only free from excessive government interference, but also from other institutions or forces that seek to restrain competitive activity.  That includes monopolies or cartels that effectively control markets based on their own power, without reference to the tax-and-police powers of the state.

A classic example of this was Cornelius Vanderbilt’s ownership of the Albany Bridge, the only way to get trains from west of the Hudson River to New York City in the mid-1800s, and his closure of that bridge to manipulate the markets and buy off his competitors.  This example is also helpful in that it illustrates why one might reasonably propose that government get involved to regulate use of a private bridge, if not take it over completely, or to create public bridges to compete.

Such questions can become tricky quickly, but the key point in 2018 is that those conditions exist in a much more limited way.  Technology has empowered so much innovation that the problem has flipped.  Metaphorically, thousands of entrepreneurs around the country are deciding that relying on the Albany Bridge makes them vulnerable or is simply irrelevant, and so they’re building new bridges or figuring out how to avoid the use of bridges altogether.  And here comes Mr. Vanderbilt, looking for government to stop that innovation so this antiquated structure remains viable.

As I mentioned back in 2016, the robber barons created a market for progressive politics to use government against the powerful industrialists.  Now we have an even more-powerful monopoly — government — that has much more total authority over us than mere economics, and it has been working to bring other powerful forces, like industrialists, to heel.

  • Chip

    R has the understanding of a college sophomore.