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Review of Burton W. Folsom Jr.’s ‘The Myth of the Robber Barons: a New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America’

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Author Burton W. Folsom Jr.’s book ‘The Myth of the Robber Barons; A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America’ is an excellent example of a book which presents an evidence-based argument. He divides the book into seven chapters based on the most prominent business Moghuls during their era. The author uses historical anecdotes to prove that government intervention in businesses in the form of subsidies, taxations, or exclusivity deals are almost always a bad idea and have historically never worked. He explains how in the past government intervention in business has always lead to the business failing to be able to compete against its rivals which were self-funded. He shows us how counterintuitively, federal funding inevitably leads to higher prices for the consumers. Federal funding also leads to increased amount of corruption at the higher levels.

In the first chapter he entrepreneurs into two categories, market entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs. A market entrepreneur succeeds by offering people a cheap price and a political entrepreneur succeeds by getting government assistance to offer a product/good/service. He talks about how much of a revolution steamboat were compared to mechanized boats and how the New York legislature granted Robert Fulton exclusivity when it comes to steamboat operations for 30 years. This leads to the emergence of a young man named Cornelius Vanderbilt who was determined to beat Futons monopoly rates. The rest of the chapter goes over the knitty gritty of how Vanderbilt outpriced Fulton out of all the markets, eventually chasing him out of the steamboat and iron hulled boat industry.

The story of how James J. Hill built and profitably ran the St. Paul and Pacific railway line against his federally funded and subsidized opponents. Hill used very well planned routes which were the cheapest to build and maintain, while his competitors, spent extravagant amounts of money trying to build the most scenic routes. Once again, Folsom proves, that a frugal approach to spending with competitive pricing allows Hill to make a profit without government assistance.

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Chapter 3 is the story of how the Scranton family beat the odds to locally produce iron rails thereby allowing them to undercut their competition which was mainly imported iron rails which were imported from London. Over time the Scranton’s did face some local competition which did use government subsidies to try and beat them, but none of them could compete with the Scranton’s efficient manufacturing process and customer service.

The author proceeds to discuss how Charles Schwab revolutionized the steel industry through his partnership with Carnegie steel. Schwab and Carnegie believed in treating their employees well and paying them well. He also believed in investing in the latest bleeding edge technology, instead of forcing his employees to work overtime to improve productivity. With the help of Charles Schwab, Carnegie steel took over the steel industry in the United States of America.

In a place which was considered barren and dry of oil, John D. Rockefeller proved to us that through persistence, hard work and pricing anything can be achieved. Using smart competitive pricing, he priced out the Russians and beat the Russian oil industry. For most of his life Rockefeller was considered a “greedy businessman”, however, towards the latter half of his life he started donating most of his money. His own personal philanthropic efforts lead to the eradication of yellow fever, meningitis and the hookworm parasite without the help of the government.

The story of Andrew Mellon is a fascinating one. He as the secretary of the treasure, persuded congress to cut taxes, hoping that it would lead to a increase in overall federal revenue. this plan did work, since lower taxes reduced the burden on the general population which allowed the people to take risks such as starting businesses. Although he is considered the person responsible for the good times in the early 1920s, he is also considered one of the people who was responsible for the Great Depression.

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Review of Burton W. Folsom Jr.’s ‘The Myth of the Robber Barons: a New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America’. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Review of Burton W. Folsom Jr.’s ‘The Myth of the Robber Barons: a New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America’.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
Review of Burton W. Folsom Jr.’s ‘The Myth of the Robber Barons: a New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2023].
Review of Burton W. Folsom Jr.’s ‘The Myth of the Robber Barons: a New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Dec 8]. Available from:
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