Silicon valley billionaires as ‘robber barons’

Victor Davis Hanson makes the connection in his latest National Review Online column.

The progressive movement took hold in the late 19th century to “trust-bust,” or break up corporations that had cornered the markets in banking, oil, steel, and railroads. Such supposedly foul play had inordinately enriched “robber baron” buccaneers such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan.

Yet today, the riches of multibillionaires dwarf the wealth of their 19th-century predecessors. Most West Coast corporate wealth was accumulated by good old-fashioned American efforts to achieve monopolies and stifle competition.

Facebook, with 2 billion monthly global users, has now effectively cornered social media.

Google has monopolized internet searches — and modulates users’ search results to accommodate its own business profiteering.

Amazon is America’s new octopus. Its growing tentacles incorporate not just online sales but also media and food retailing.

Yet there are no modern-day progressive muckrakers in the spirit of Upton Sinclair, Frank Norris, and Lincoln Steffens, warning of the dangers of techie monopolies or the astronomical accumulation of wealth. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook are worth nearly $1 trillion each.

Conservatives have no problem with anyone doing well, so their silence is understandable. But in the Obama era, the nation received all sorts of progressive lectures on the downsides of being super-rich.

Obama remonstrated about spreading the wealth, knowing when not to profit, and realizing when one has made enough money. He declared that entrepreneurs did not build their own businesses without government help.

Yet such sermonizing never seemed to include Facebook, Starbucks, or Amazon.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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