Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gabriel Kolko

With a little perseverance you can get things done
Without the blind adherence that has conquered some
--Corey Hart

Gabriel Kolko, a 'New Left' historian, passed away earlier this week. Among his influential works was The Triumph of Conservatism (1963).

I've always felt his title unfortunate, as this revisionist work was meant to explain the increasingly cozy relationship between big business and government that began to gain strength in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This phenomenon transcended political parties. For example, Teddy Roosevelt (R) was an early instigator and Woodrow Wilson (D) was a potent integrator.

The standard line is that antitrust movements of this period were the product of federal government efforts to reign in monopolistic businesses in banking, railroads, oil, etc. These monopolies, it is said, were hurting consumer welfare and government was coming to the assistance of the little guy. Using copious amounts of empirical data, Kolko argues that the opposite occurred. Entrepreneurial entrants were gnawing away at the franchises of the Morgans, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers and consumer welfare was improving as competition intensified.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Big Business went to the feds willingly and requested regulation--knowing full well that such regulation would raise barriers to entrepreneurial entry and thus protect incumbent franchises from competition. And, oh yes, the business barons graciously volunteered their own people to advise and sit on the regulatory commissions.

Fast forward 100 years and the proof is in the pudding. Industry concentrations have gone nowhere but higher in heavily regulated industries.

Consumers, rather than being protected, have been rooked out of countless productivity improvements that never saw the light of day because entrepreneurs chose not to hurdle the regulatory entry barriers.

Moreover, ties between Big Business and government have become increasingly fascist in nature.

Sadly, Kolko's work has not been able to significantly alter the false narrative spun to generations of Americans. It remains an important work nonetheless that may help move mountains yet.


Kolko, G. 1963. The triumph of conservatism: A reinterpretation of American history. 1900-1916. New York: The Free Press.

1 comment:

dgeorge12358 said...

Ironically, contrary to the consensus of historians, it was not the existence of monopoly that caused the federal government to intervene in the economy, but the lack of it.
~Gabriel Kolko