Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Holy Shit, John D. Rockefeller!

John D. Rockefeller

Let's talk about wealth. You know how we like to use the phrase "filthy rich?" Well, if wealth is filth, then John D. Rockefeller could single-handedly destroy Captain Planet by the sheer weight of his putrescence.
Captain Planet vs. Hitler
Though to be fair, Hitler almost destroyed him with a rude glance.

The man was moneyed. Big time. You think you have a wealthy relative? Your cousin or uncle who started a business and owns a McMansion? Pah. Plebe. Rockefeller could buy most small cities if he had been so inclined. He could have swooped in on his hometown of Cleveland, for example, and bought every single building within the city limits. Probably. I didn't look that up, it just seemed right. Sue me.

You think Bill Gates has wealth? Well, he does. He is currently the richest man on the planet, valued at over 72 Billion Dollars. That's after he gave much of his fortune away to charity. But adjusted for inflation, Bill Gates did not have as much money as John D. Rockefeller. Not by a loooooooooooong shot. Adjusted for inflation, Rockefeller was worth about 665 Billion Dollars. More than NINE TIMES as much as Bill Gates.
Bill Gates frowning
Sorry, William.

You know how Occupy Wall Street took "We are the 99 percent" as their rallying cry? The "1%" in the time of Rockefeller...was Rockefeller. He was the sole member of the top 1% of wealth-holders in America. In fact, since he personally controlled 1.53% of the GDP of the United States, he could have legitimately claimed to be both a part of the 1% and joined in the chant, "We are the 99%." Because he was both.

To the great benefit of society, Rockefeller poured a massive amount of money back where it was needed through charitable giving. He was, in many ways, the founder of modern philanthropy. There's a good reason you hear the name Rockefeller fairly often, whether it's related to medicine, the arts, or education. His money played a key role in the establishment of as Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Brown, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, and Vassar, as well as a number of historically black colleges. In his early days, he was a Lincoln-supporter and a die-hard abolitionist.

Of course, on the other hand, he was also a die-hard capitalist, which meant crushing his competition underfoot when they didn't measure up and leaving them destitute. That's business, to be sure, but there weren't as many protections against monopolies back then. Rockefeller was one of the classic Robber Barons of the 19th Century who, intentionally or not, set about establishing a new type of aristocracy through their control of the economy. Anyone who ended up starving, they argued, was simply a victim of evolution. They called it Social Darwinism, and it was based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the works of Charles Darwin.
Charlie Darwin facepalm
Come on, guys, I said natural selection.

A number of new regulations and New Deals came along that would help to mitigate the control of the Robber Barons and give the middle class a stronger ground to stand on, but my personal favorite was a proposal (watered down before passing and later repealed) called the Wealth Tax Act. If it had been made into a law, it would have charged a staggering 79% tax on the top earners in America. The threshold for this tax bracket, though, was high. So high, in fact, that it would effectively be levied only to a single person. They could have just called it the John D. Rockefeller Tax.

Holy shit.

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