The overarching task of the conservative historian is to rehabilitate the image of capitalism, even at its most red-toothed and -clawed. Not a hard job, as both our history and culture ceaselessly celebrate the innovative dynamism of American business. But one of the rare areas in which history teachers are allowed to criticize unfettered capitalism is the Gilded Age of the ” robber barons” — Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Fisk, et al. These men, many of whom first rose to prominence through unseemly wartime speculation, built enormous fortunes on the exceedingly generous terms of the times, which included bribery, monopolies, and stock manipulation, perverting the alleged power of the free market on their own behalf. They were kind of like the Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers of their day — except they never got caught.. Why do they so eagerly defend the robber barons even at their worst? Maybe because, as economist Brad DeLong has noted, the grotesque inequity in American wealth that characterized their era has only one equivalent in U.S. history — that of our own time. And if one’s business is excusing the perfidy and criminality of today’s speculators and swindlers, it is helpful to make heroes of the speculators and swindlers who are their models.
Also from Alternet: