27 Apr 2009

CNBC’s Description of John D. Rockefeller

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OK so I was taking a break in between tasks and flipped through CNBC’s Best American CEOs of All Time slideshow. #6 was Rockefeller, and here’s what they had to say:

It’s hard to top Rockefeller as a monopolist or philanthropist. While doling out dimes and nickels to the poor, John D. built a sprawling empire by squashing, undercutting, and buying up the competition. Over a two-month period in 1872, Standard Oil absorbed 22 of the 26 petroleum firms in Cleveland, where the company was first headquartered. By 1879, it had about 90 percent of the market for refining petroleum and all but complete control of the U.S. oil industry.

THE STAT: Rockefeller’s fortune peaked in 1912 at $900 million ($19 billion in today’s dollars), but by the time he died, in 1937, he’d given most of his money away to heirs and charities.

Let’s put aside the scurrilous “monopolist” charge, since Rockefeller was able to “squash” his competitors by slashing the price of kerosene and other refined oil products. (I discuss Rockefeller and other “robber barons” in my PIG to Capitalism.)

Where in the HECK do they get off saying he gave out “dimes and nickels” to the poor?!* Even if you buy into the standard (crazy) notion that Rockefeller was bad for making so much money, but good for donating most of it back, you can’t say that he nickel and dimed the objects of his philanthropy. Just look at some of the things his money financed.

* In the comments a reader informs me that Rockefeller handed out nickels and dimes to the poor. Hence, that is probably where the writer got the idea for putting that in the description.

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