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The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy Paperback – October 3, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
During the 40 years following the end of the Civil War, American per capita production and consumption grew rapidly, the population soared and the U.S. economy surged past Great Britain's-a radical transformation that Morris (Money, Greed, and Risk) chronicles through the lives of four protagonists: steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, oil king John D. Rockefeller, stock market and railroad wizard Jay Gould and financier J.P. Morgan. More an economic argument than an exposition of history or biography, Morris' volume analyzes long-term historical trends and their influence on modern affairs. The result is a fascinating revisionist interpretation in which Gould and Rockefeller come off better than conventional wisdom suggests, and Carnegie and Morgan worse. Readers without a strong grounding in economics may be challenged by Morris' analysis, but those better versed will be intrigued by his original angle on the robber barons. Agent, Tim Seldes.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Morris profiles the four big "robber barons" of post-Civil War America: Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate, characterized as annoying and cruel; John D. Rockefeller, the direct and understated visionary who founded Standard Oil; Jay Gould, perhaps the most vilified of them all, who made his fortune in railroads; and J. P. Morgan, who, groomed for the financial trade, became the world's banker. Although all four would probably have excelled in any era, it was the machine age, the move from an agricultural to a manufacturing society, and the concurrent rise of mass consumption, that created an environment for their megasuccess. Morris shows how the inventiveness and spirit of the American worker in the later 1800s led to a surge of growth that had the U.S. roaring past Great Britain to become the world's top producer. "Scientific Management" of factories created interchangeable parts and assembly lines, bringing branded foods and labor-saving home appliances to the people. Morris brings home how the rapid expansion produced a "supply shock" that overshadows any so-called paradigm shift that we may be experiencing today. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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A legitimate question that the author addresses is what was the basis of this astonishing economic surge? The short answer is immense natural resources, necessity, and ingenuity, in addition to an advantageous legal setting. The ever expanding population virtually required that huge enterprises come into existence that were capable of making the capital investments to meet their needs. Fortunately, America had the iron ore, oil deposits, rich farmlands, vast plains and waterways, etc which large businesses could exploit to meet the demands for transportation and durable goods.
Yankee ingenuity does not get short shrift in the author's account. He points especially to the Connecticut River valley as a hub for developments in manufacturing. Machinery was designed to produce to tight tolerances the interchangeable parts necessary for the mass production of guns, farming machinery, consumer goods, etc. However, this mechanization did not come without fundamental social impacts. Employers became far less dependent on skilled artisans for production; quickly trained, lowly paid, and easily replaced machine-tenders became mere cogs in manufacturing. The author little appreciates that this power imbalance in the workplace was a constant source of conflict and was not effectively addressed until the CIO unionization drives of the 1930s. On the other hand, as the author points out, never before had so many affordable products become available to the middle-class. Apparently, the status of being a middle-class consumer was a substitute for the loss of status as an independent, skilled producer.
The author merely sketches the early lives and the personal characteristics of these four individuals. All were smarter than the next guy, were ambitious, and could be ruthless, as well as deceitful. The author describes the basic business dealings of each individual that propelled them to rise above their competitors. In addition, all seemed to have mastered navigating the treacherous, that is, unregulated, financial waters of the times involving stocks, bonds, and the like. Unfortunately, most of that financial wheeling and dealing is the most confusing aspect of the book.
Despite theoretical claims that competition is key to capitalism, the last thing that companies with large capital investments want is competition. To control pricing a company must dominate its sector by getting bigger, merging with others, or joining pools or cartels. All of these men, especially Carnegie and Rockefeller, using those mechanisms, achieved the kind of dominance that permitted them to generally control the marketplace. Nonetheless, the broader American economy was prone to panics and downturns throughout the 19th century. It was J.P. Morgan, banker extraordinaire, who was powerful enough to bring stability to financial markets through judicious injection of funds, among other measures. The author indicates that Morgan acting as a conservative force actually performed the role that the Federal Reserve was created for in 1913.
The author basically ignores or downplays the reactions of American workers and farmers to the control that these large enterprises had in the economy and over politicians and to the depressions and deflation of the late 19th century. He mentions the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Haymarket Square bombing of 1886, and the Homestead strike of 1892 against the Carnegie works, but does so to generally show the irrational and violent reactions of workers. The largest worker organization of the times, the Knights of Labor, gets no mention, and the entire Populist movement gets a mere wave of the hand. They were concerned that enormous corporations not only squeezed them economically but also undermined the democratic process. The author does acknowledge that the free laborer that Lincoln extolled, who would someday become an owner, had become more illusion than reality.
To the author's credit, he does note that the managerial strategies that began with the tycoons and lasting beyond WWII, that is, vertical integration, regarding workers as merely replaceable pieces, etc, have proven to be a prescription for failure. According to him, the just-in-time reliance on a network of suppliers and relying on smart production workers has made Toyota a model manufacturer.
It is interesting to see the basic paths these individuals took to reach economic heights, though a full understanding would require referring to other sources. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book is the technical genius displayed by several in revamping manufacturing from both the micro and macro level. Also, the author provides some correctives to negative perspectives about these individuals, especially Rockefeller. But the book questions too little. Did America sign up for dominant corporations and individuals in 1787? Can a democracy really exist in the face of narrowly held economic power? What is super about an economy that tolerates fairly high levels of poverty and unemployment? Celebrating tycoons does not really address those fundamental questions.
about MODERN USA HISTORY & INDUSTRIAL WORLD AFFAIRS. The tycoons were
written in a very comprehensive historical ways. There are already so many books written by many AUTHORS on THE FOUR TYCOONS of AMERICAN HISTORY in MODERN TIME particularly on J.D. ROCKEFELLER &
JP MORGAN, which are indeed the PRIDE of AMERICA. However, Mr. MORRIS
wrote the four tycoons on a more precise & concise ways for the readers to
appreciate the GREAT FREEDOM of ENTERPRISE of USA, which the WORLD would
like to follow, hopefully it will enrich WORLD ECONOMY if we don't over
spent on enjoyments.
The TYCOONS brought the MEN and their times to life!!
CHARLES R. MORRIS is a good story teller of how these four HARD WORKING &
DETERMINED men brought the USA economy to the MODERN TIME, inventing a
STRONG, RICH & FREE UNITED STATES of AMERICA!!
I SALUTE THE TYCOONS for GOOD CITIZEN of USA!! STRONGLY RECOMMEND TYCOONS
for all READERS!!
I remain your friend from HONG KONG,CHINA!!
STEPHEN M. YUNG,
This book is really a book on economics disguised as a history book, disguised as a non-fiction novel. In other words it is easy to read and very informative. You do not have to be a economics junkie or micro information egghead to get a lot out of this book.
It tells the story of industrial revolution America and America's rise to prominence on the world between 1830 and 1900. It tells this story through the four men who were its leaders and what they did in their respective fields. So to me, this book is more about America's rise to power than the four men in the title.
What struck me more than anything else about what I learned from this book was how different this time period was compared to how it was taught to me in high school. I always had a slightly negative feeling about America - post Civil War to 1900 - and thought the era was rather brutish and at times disgraceful. I had never read or was taught a positive thing that happened in the era in high school or college.
How completely wrong that is. I hate to get political here because the book itself is not political, but much of the legislation passed starting in 1900, and continues today, was in response to what had happened in America in the previous 40 years. The perception of America between (1870-1900) is completely off base. This book helps put some balance on that misconception. It also tells the story of just how positive capitalism is for the general welfare of the population despite its excesses and opprobriums.