A People's History of the United States Questions and Answers
by Howard Zinn

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In Chapter 11, how did Zinn view capitalism and the great industrialists of the late 1800s?

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Zinn's view of capitalism and industrialists is evident from the title of the chapter itself. He refers to industrialists who skilfully terrace "separate levels of oppression" along the "pyramid of wealth" as "robber barons."

Zinn contends that the "rags to riches" story is a spurious myth about how wealth is accumulated within a capitalist system. Although some multimillionaires began in poverty, most came from middle class and upper-class backgrounds. In order to succeed within a capitalist society, one must learn how to collaborate with the courts and the politicians. For example, Zinn maintains that Thomas Edison promised New Jersey politicians $1000 each if they managed to pass favorable legislation that would benefit his business ventures.

To be a successful industrialist, one must be willing to work hard, to cut corners whenever possible, and to bribe officials when necessary. Zinn asserts that the first transcontinental railroad was built with "blood, sweat, politics, and...

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