Does Rockefeller deserve to be called a "robber baron?" Why or why not?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The term “robber baron” is probably too harsh to properly apply to anyone.  However, inasmuch as anyone deserves it, John D. Rockefeller does.  The reason why he deserves it is because he was ruthless in his attempts to increase the market share held by his company in the oil business.

Rockefeller can be called a robber baron simply because he used his power to destroy other businesses.  Rockefeller wanted his company to have as much of the market as possible.  To achieve this, he pushed his company hard to reduce its costs.  This involved tactics like pushing railroads to give him the lowest possible rates and ruthlessly searching for any way to improve the efficiency of his operation.  Once he had accomplished his goal of reducing costs, he was able to outcompete the other companies and drive them out of business.  As his company got bigger and bigger, he became more and more able to use its power to crush his competitors.  For this reason, he deserves the name “robber baron.”

However, this is not to say that Rockefeller only did bad things. In a sense, his ruthlessness was good for consumers.  It drove the price of oil down, thus saving people money.  Rockefeller also used some of the money that he made for charitable purposes.  He believed in the “Gospel of Wealth” and gave substantial amounts of money to charitable causes.

Thus, we can call Rockefeller a robber baron, but we should not imagine that his actions only had negative effects.