"Law? Who cares about law! Hain't I got the power?" ~ Cornelius Vanderbilt, actual quote from the 3rd richest person to ever live (proportionately)
I was going to post this sooner but I was in a slight accident & injured several parts of my body (including both hands). As I do not have insurance, I had to take care of it like Bruce Willis in Die Hard with some alcohol, duct tape and American grit (jk lol I'm actually Québécois). Unfortunately, it is harder to type with injured hands despite what this lengthy prelude would suggest. (*see below for what led up to the injuries)
There's a scene in Michael Crichton's book Timeline, which was left out of the abysmal film adaptation, where some of the grad students have dinner with some American friends who are "stock traders." For those of you who haven't read the book, the grad students in the book are
In a drawn out way, much like myself, the character makes a note that knowledge of history can be extremely useful. He says "These stockbrokers owed the very notion of a market economy to the Middle Ages. And if they didn't know that, then they didn't know the basic facts of who they were. Why they did what they did. Where they had come from."
Which brings me to...
God damn, it's good to be richer than fucking anyone ever!
Originally, Robber Barons, or the original Raubritter, were asshole nobles in the middle ages that fucked with people by overcharging them for crossing a river. In America, it became popularized by Midwestern farmers in the late 1800's referring to similar assholes who overcharged the farmers to transport crops on the railroads. (*See below, for some some modern ones)
Believe the anti-China stories the American press puts out all you want but if the Gulf spill happened in China, these guys would have been put to death by now (go look up what the Chinese Govt does to officials who screw things up on such a massive level, start w/ milk tainting scandal).
Eventually, the American robber baron became an archetype or sign, or if you hate semiotics how about the more well known/half-ass version called a meme, for any industrialist/CEO/captain of industry who had the same social status long ago as say today's pedophiles do on Dateline's To Catch a Predator. (see below)
Well that and your noticeable lack of a suit and/or top hat.
This post actually comes out of something Mon. Angry Future Ex Pat wrote in one post,
"If you can think of a historical analogue to this state of affairs globally, I’d love to hear it – even the great depression really only lasted from 1929-1933, with a with a relapse from 1938 until WWII kicked into gear."
AFEP uses numbers, figures, and data in a lot of informative posts about how fucked the majority of Western Civilization is compared to me (obviously if I were better at math I wouldn't be here would I?). Unfortunately, my brain usually shuts off after a certain amount of math or economics (which is also a problem for our larger society as a whole and how this shit keeps happening). However, economies and epochs in history are not just numbers and figures but a set of social relations and rules that govern interactions on multiple level (economics is an excellent way to quantify such transactions over time). And there are non-math magic things that I happen to be good at (oO grammar!).
So here's my working thesis:
"The current global economy/culture is actually the result of social regression. Over the past several decades, we have seen a relapse in America to the time period of 1860-1900 (aka post Civil War & Pre-WWI specifically). Our time bears more striking similarities to this period than any other time in history."
When making analogies or comparisons to the current state of the economy and world events, the media and everyone else seems to jump right to the Great Depression [as a historian friend lamented to me it's probably because 1) the media are ignorant jackasses 2) they have a lot more photographs and video of the Great Depression to do narration over 3) the collective conscious doesn't have a good sense of history]. I'm surprised no one has really written about this topic in more detail. The Robber Baron/Industrial Age is usually one of those periods that gets lip service/a couple sentences in the general education classes that you college taught readers had in between your very important pre-law/business/polisci/communications--lol type classes. They'll hit the big notes about expansion etc., but they skip a lot of the really good sociological details that make book learning fun.
For example, in the 1860s the Southern Literary Messenger wrote a few fantasy stories about what they predicted life would be like in the far off future of 2029. One of these stories featured a female protagonist Miss Jane Delaware Peyton, oh look lots of names to signify that you're not a commoner...don't a lot of attorneys do that too? Oh right Duane...sigh, who travels from one side of the country to the other in 8 days on a train topping speeds of 60 miles an hour! Holy Shit that's fast!
Unfortunately, such high speed travel comes at a price. Including the illness known as "Tourbilliere" which was caused by high speed travel over great distances. With Tourbilliere, the travelers' perception accelerates but their memories lapse so, "the mind loses an idea almost as soon as it has been formed." In order to cope, the passengers, especially the weak minded womenfolk, would disembark from their trains and sit quietly at a terminal until the symptoms went away (although many would say that women should always sit quietly).
Relevance? Anyone heard of jet lag? The mysterious condition that so many commonly experience & every ass clown seems to have a pseudo-scientific solution for? It's petty but fun. The more you learn about life, expectations, world views and beliefs of people in this time period the more you look around today's world and say...wow.
For example, it's clear that everywhere you turn the "numbers" show the breadth and scope of how bad things are for the average plebe but especially recent grads.
Here's a fun chart on the Wall Street Journal's website giving month to month year to year of the unemployment since 1948. The best part of this chart is how rosy a picture it paints, comparitively, as they don't go into detail about the numerous errors made in data collection that may be clouding the real trends (i.e., underemployment/nonparticipants/etc.)
By the way, things are going to get worse before they get better for the younglings in the coming years...GOOD LUCK CLASS OF 2010!!!! (*See below)
But this chart is far more entertaining and pertinent to my thesis - this chart shows the wage gap between say you're average worker compared to the CEO of some of the most awesome corporations today
Guess where you have to go back to find this kind of disparity in distribution?
In the 1890's, the average
Other fun tidbits, the term unemployment literally comes from the late 1800's. It was also common for workers to be out of a job at least 3 or 4 months a year even when the economy was "booming" according to the precursors to
Hopefully this will arouse your interest for more details in Part 2 of the series....
So, stay tuned for Part 2!!! And until next time John D. Rockefeller says, "I would rather earn 1% off a 100 people's efforts than 100% of my own efforts."