How Robber Barons Became Robin Hoods

Aug 21, 2017 by

Why anti-business business writers give tech titans a free pass on ‘red in tooth and claw’ capitalism…

By Andrew Ferguson –

Among the enduring questions of American journalism – What happened to Amelia Earhart? Who was that guy lurking behind the fence on the grassy knoll? How does Gail Collins keep her job? – is this: Why are business journalists so anti-business?

That is, why do the boys and girls who write about capitalism bear such hostility to the men and women who practice it?

Having worked over the course of a long career for a number of outlets that cover business, I speak from personal experience. You could set off a neutron bomb in the Bloomberg News headquarters without bumping off a single Republican. That is, if you don’t count the maintenance crew and maybe a couple of nerds writing code in the basement.

But this timeless conundrum of hackery admits one exception: business journalists love tech titans. Tim Cook, Larry Ellison, Eric Schmidt, Sheryl Sandberg, and Mark Zuckerberg… These folks at the very tippy top of the capitalist heap enjoy a view that would have made the most successful robber baron green – or greener, anyway – with envy.

Not only have they become admired, even beloved by business reporters – they have become darlings of the left generally, somehow indemnified against the bitterness directed at pharmaceutical executives or the CEOs of oil companies.

The traditional posture of progressives toward people who have won the market lottery is mistrust with a generous helping of moral outrage, on the assumption that success is always underpinned by the exploitation of the disadvantaged by the powerful.

Every good statist has learned about the great 19th century robber barons from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, the best-selling history textbook of the last 30 years and the most effective anti-capitalist propaganda ever printed. “In industry after industry,” Zinn instructed his young readers, there were “shrewd, efficient businessmen building empires, choking out competition, maintaining high prices, keeping wages low, using government subsidies.”

Progressives despise the accumulation of wealth when they can’t get their hands on it. Except when it comes to tech titans, anyway.

The shift first hit me smack in the face with the retirement of Steve Jobs a couple years ago, followed shortly thereafter by his death.

Jobs, of course, was a model of the rapacious capitalist, hipster division. Viewed objectively, forgetting the sneakers and the black mock turtleneck, he seemed to do business like a fevered socialist caricature. He encouraged in his consumers all the things that liberals claim to despise. Jobs specialized in the tactics that appalled Herbert Marcuse, the premier theorist of the New Left and a commie’s commie, in the 1960s: manufactured wants, the “marketing of desire,” the “fetishizing” of commodities, “planned obsolescence,” the exploitation of cheap foreign labor, indifference to the natural world, and more.

Rapacious capitalism made Jobs very rich and very famous, yet the encomiums and then the eulogies shimmered with admiration and affection from people who are otherwise sworn enemies of rapacious capitalism.

In the New York Times, the business writer Joe Nocera called Apple’s co-founder the “single most indispensable chief executive on the planet.” (Nocera had to make clear that he wasn’t talking about chief executives off the planet.) The left-wing economics writer for the Washington Post – a Pulitzer Prize winner, wouldn’t you know – praised Jobs’ “brilliance and strength of character,” which turned his company into “a symbol of what American workers and American business and the American economy can achieve.”

It sounds a bit like Ted Cruz giving an award to a right-to-work activist, doesn’t it?

On and on it went: Jobs, said the liberal magazine Washington Monthly, was a “great inventor, great businessman, great innovator, great American.” The news website ThinkProgress wondered: “What with Republicans slashing funding for clean energy, who else will be the engine of innovation, efficiency, and dematerialization?” As we’ll see in a moment, this was an odd compliment to steer toward Steve Jobs.

Source: How Robber Barons Became Robin Hoods – American Consequences

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