Posts Tagged John D. Rockefeller

Privilege: A Means to Do Good

Conservatives and libertarians like to downplay privilege and focus mostly on merit. “Just work hard,” they’ll say, which is indeed part of the solution. Yet it is not the only element in play.

This week at Common Sense Concept, I discuss the issue in light of a recent talk by Anthony Bradley for Marketplace One.

Watch the video here:



Here’s an excerpt:

[A]lthough our efforts certainly play a part in how well we succeed in life—and although they may indeed be a primary factor in some or most cases—are we really to ignore where we came from and how that came to be? After all, isn’t our ability to triumph and overcome obstacles only inspiring insofar as it contrasts with whatever little amount of privilege we had in the first place? What are “obstacles,” anyway, if not the things that don’t come easy? Do we marvel over the relative accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller’s children as much as we marvel over the striking ascendance of Rockefeller himself?

Yet while many in the “pro-capitalism” crowd downplay privilege too much, those in the Marxist camp twist it to be the determining factor of our existence: either our weapon or our prison:

Whereas the pro-capitalism crowd likes to pretend class privilege is a non-issue, the Marxist crowd likes to pretend that such privilege determines our very actions. If you are born poor, you are incapable of becoming wealthy, because if you are born wealthy, you are incapable of not Read the rest of this entry »

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Monopolies and Competition: Mom! Dad! AT&T’s Not Sharing!

AT&T, T-Mobile, cell phone, acquisition, monopoly, competitionIn my most recent post at Ethika Politika, I comment on AT&T’s recent plans to acquire T-Mobile, a move that has garnered cries of “monopoly!” (or “duopoly!”) from all sides.

But although many see AT&T’s actions as “anti-competitive” in nature, I see no such thing. From where I stand, the acquisition has great potential to improve the company’s output, which could indeed benefit consumers and invigorate competition in the industry:

With a newly expanded network, AT&T could greatly improve its ability to expand service to rural areas. Due to increased economies of scale, it is likely that prices could decrease across the board. Additionally, although critics claim that the tightening of the market will have a negative impact on innovation, many believe it will raise the stakes (“mono y mono!”), leading to improvements on any number of company weak spots, from customer service to overall quality of service.

Yet whether the deal will be good or bad for (anyone’s) business is secondary; such matters remain debatable. The core issue, as I see it, rests in the mindset of those who adamantly oppose the deal on limited evidence, particularly those trying to prohibit it from happening altogether.

As I argue, the problems with such a mindset can be broken into three main areas: (1) a fear of competition itself, (2) a misunderstanding of the company-consumer relationship, and (3) a corresponding pessimism and all-around static view of human ingenuity and potential.

I expound on each, but regarding the third (and most important), here’s an excerpt:

Do we really believe that markets are that unmovable, or that we as innovators, explorers, and dreamers do not have what it takes to meet whatever challenges and needs may arise? Are we really so short-sighted that we Read the rest of this entry »

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Winning to Live: Competition Is About Discovery

horse, racing, competitionEconomist Friedrich von Hayek once referred to competition as a “discovery procedure.” This week at Ethika Politika, I explore what that means for us as moral individuals.

Far too often we confine our thinking about competition to matters of “justice” or “fairness.” Such considerations are certainly relevant and important, but I fear that we tend to fall back on them as a way of avoiding the impending risk and vulnerability within the competitive process.

As I argue, we must be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate purpose or value of competition, which is, above all, discovery.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Competition leads to reaction. It demands, provokes, and prods. It draws out information. When we engage in competitive activity, we are bound to uncover something new. We will not be certain of the end goal, and we will not be certain of the end result, but the information we gain throughout the process will point the way towards true value.

Here’s another:

The good news is that although competition may lead to a frustration of our original intentions, it need not be the frustration of our entire destinies. It may tell us that our role in the larger equilibrium (Hayek prefers the term “order”) has shifted, but it is up to us to find ways to provide value in the shifting frontier. We can certainly remain idle as we watch the world transform, or we can participate and innovate, continuing to develop as individuals and as a society.

Read the full article here.

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Charity as Investment: Bill Gates and the Malaria Vaccine

A couple months ago I wrote a post about the recent pledge by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to give away at least half of their riches to charity. In my post, I noted the potential of such charity while emphasizing that giving away your money is not necessarily as transformative as investing it for profit.

However, if one does decide to divert their resources to charity, the main focus of the discussion becomes centered on whether those resources are being allocated efficiently and effectively. 60 Minutes recently interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates about the targets of their charity, and their responses indicate that their efforts are not lacking in the realm of care and consideration.

You can watch the video here (HT David Henderson):





As the report indicates, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has 850 employees, all of whom are hired to determine “which science or development projects are worthy.” This reminds me of the daunting task undertaken by John D. Rockefeller.

As I’ve already mentioned, we are bound to disagree on where and how we think certain resources should be allocated because we all see value differently. For example, as a Christian, I am particularly concerned with the limits of Read the rest of this entry »

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Business as Philanthropy: Gates, Buffett, and Transformative Change

Bill GatesBill Gates and Warren Buffett recently pledged to join 40 of America’s wealthiest people in donating at least half of their riches to charity. For Gates and Buffett alone, such a pledge will translate into at least $115 billion in charity.

This sounds wonderful on the surface, but philanthropist Kimberly O. Dennis is a bit skeptical. In last week’s Wall Street Journal, Dennis argued that “the wealthy may help humanity more as businessmen and women than as philanthropists.”

As Dennis explains:

What are the chances, after all, that the two forces behind the Giving Pledge will contribute anywhere near as much to the betterment of society through their charity as they have through their business pursuits? In building Microsoft, Bill Gates changed the way the world creates and shares knowledge. Warren Buffett’s investments have birthed and grown innumerable profitable enterprises, making capital markets work more efficiently and enriching many in the process.

In the end, Dennis’ criticism seems to serve as a simple reminder of which approach is most promising when it comes to bringing about transformative change.

While businesses may do more for the public good than they’re given credit for, philanthropies may do less. Think about it for a moment: Can you point to a single charitable accomplishment that has been as transformative as, say, the cell phone or the birth-control pill?

On this last question there is bound to be disagreement, particularly because we all view value differently. For one person the birth control pill is extremely important. For another, feeding one hungry mouth is Read the rest of this entry »

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The Monopoly Myth: Alex Epstein on Rockefeller and Standard Oil

Cartoonist Horace Taylor depicts Rockefeller.

In my review of Ron Chernow’s Titan, I mentioned the controversy surrounding the so-called monopolistic tactics of John D. Rockefeller.

For example, I said the following:

Rockefeller is often disdained as one of the nineteenth-century robber barons who greedily pursued money and power by sucking up innocent competitors, gouging consumers, and starving employees.

I did not, however, go into too much detail about whether such claims are actually well founded. I did say Rockefeller did things that were “cringe-worthy,” but in the business world many ethical and justifiable things can be uncomfortable to behold no matter how good or necessary they may be.

As a follow-up, I wanted to point you toward this lecture, in which Alex Epstein uses the example of Rockefeller and Standard Oil to debunk what he calls the “Monopoly Myth.”




The gist of the Epstein’s argument is that in a free society a monopoly like Rockefeller’s cannot be maintained without continuing to offer superior value.

For example, many people criticize Rockefeller for gouging consumers through predatory pricing, but such claims are factually inaccurate. It was in Rockefeller’s best interest to keep prices as low as possible. As I mentioned in my review, Rockefeller was not swayed by gobs of money and the instantaneous pleasures it could afford him. Rather, he was restrained by his ultimate goal of achieving maximum efficiency and superiority in the oil industry. In other Read the rest of this entry »

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John D. Rockefeller: Lover of Money or Enterprise?

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

When people talk about John D. Rockefeller they all seem to say something different. Some talk about Rockefeller the innovative entrepreneur, some talk about Rockefeller the back-dealing monopolist, and some talk about Rockefeller the charitable do-gooder.

From being derided as the devil of modern industry to being hailed as the saint of modern philanthropy, Rockefeller always was, and still remains, a controversial figure.

It’s no surprise then that Ron Chernow’s biography of the man (aptly titled Titan) paints a picture no less diverse. Chernow takes us chronologically from Rockefeller’s backwater beginnings to his astounding rise to wealth, focusing all the while on what made the man tick.

Sounds all too familiar, right? A man with humble beginnings overcomes all odds to become a happy and successful family man. But what is so unique about Rockefeller is the extent to which he did not change despite his rapid rise to fame. Certainly he evolved in many regards, but as a father, as a husband, as a worker, and as a tither, we see the same moral framework from beginning to end.

That’s right. There is no “Bathsheba moment” of weakness, no interlude of repentant exile, and no climactic epiphany that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” In a way, what is most boring about Rockefeller’s life is also what is so fascinating about it.

Some people believe that money can change you, but for Rockefeller, the key to success was not letting that happen.

John D. Rockefeller at age 18.

Rockefeller’s childhood was not a dainty one. His father, William A. Rockefeller, was known around town as “Wild Bill” for being a notorious liar, thief, and scam artist. He was also a womanizer and a bigamist. When Rockefeller was eighteen, Wild Bill permanently ditched the family for his other wife under the pretense of cross-country “business.” Before leaving, he told the young Rockefeller, “I shall be away and must rely on your judgment.”

Whether his father knew it or not (and Chernow thinks he did), Rockefeller’s judgment could definitely be trusted, and from that day forward, young John flourished as the new “paterfamilias” of his mother’s home. This triggered similar success in the business world, as Rockefeller worked hard to fill the gaps his father left. Chernow calls it an “exquisite” irony that Bill “turned his back on his family just as his eldest son began to amass the largest fortune in history.”

Plainly put, Rockefeller was not intimidated by crummy circumstances; he was inspired by them. Life was about opportunities, not disadvantages.

As the story goes on, plenty of Read the rest of this entry »

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