The New Robber Barons: the Lords of Silicon Valley

In the latter half of the 19th century, before the advent of income tax, there existed a class of millionaires in this country who used many unscrupulous means to gain immense wealth, separating themselves from the working class of the country by previously unheard-of multiples.

The Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Carnegies, the Mellons, the Rockefellers and numerous other “industrialists” (today, we would call them globalists) were able to amass great fortunes and live like royalty, with much of their power enabled through the workings of the politicians they influenced via graft.

In their day and age, they were known as “robber barons,” after the wealthy lords of aristocratic Germany, where landowners charged commoners an illegal tax for passing over their land.

Historian Hal Bridges wrote that the robber barons were “business leaders in the United States from about 1865 to 1900… a set of avaricious rascals who habitually cheated and robbed investors and consumers, corrupted government, fought ruthlessly among themselves, and in general carried on predatory activities comparable to those of the robber barons of medieval Europe.”

Many students of history argue that America’s robber barons were only tamed by the introduction of antitrust laws such as the Sherman Act and the Clayton Act of 1890 and 1914, respectively, as well as the introduction of income tax in 1913 and the stock market crash of 1929. Until that time, the power of these business titans was left mostly unchecked.

Many politicians — especially in large cities like New York — were bought off by their riches and voted for (or even created) laws that would favor and broaden these men’s empires. Regulations, agreements, waivers and amendments were passed that allowed many of these wealth-hoarders to assemble legal monopolies that would almost certainly be outlawed today.

In fact, if one took the wealth of some of these men (like the Rockefellers) and adjusted it for inflation into today’s dollars, their riches would surpass those of even Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos.

But it’s these latter figures who now belong to today’s equivalent class of men that can be considered the “robber barons” of our own era — the billionaires of high-tech Silicon Valley.

When the Internet boom first occurred in the 1990s, Silicon Valley was quick to tell Congress that Internet sales should not be subject to taxes and that the Internet should not be regulated, lest this burgeoning marketplace be trampled to death before it could fully blossom.

But that was then. In the interim, fortunes have been made, and a very small number of players (Amazon, Google, eBay, Facebook, Craigslist, Netflix, Airbnb, Uber) have dominated specific product niches and made certain savvy players such as the aforementioned Bezos and Gates — along with Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Pierre Omidyar, Craig Newmark, Brian Chesky, Steve Ballmer and Larry Ellison, among others — insanely rich.

In fact, these people’s extreme wealth, along with the relatively unregulated and untaxed industry that gave them that wealth, has convinced many of them that they have the innate right to tinker with markets and monopolies without undue fear of being legislated against or taxed as other industry leaders have been.

In many cases — Bezos, Zuckerberg and Gates being some of the most notorious examples — they’ve been falling all over themselves to enter still further niches — automated cars, robotics and drones, for example — in order to dominate those markets also by using their tremendous fortunes to either acquire the leading players in these industries or to drive them out of business through ruthless competition.

Along the way, the enormous power their market monopolies have given them in terms of the data they’ve been able to compile and the information they’ve been able to acquire on ordinary American citizens has enriched them even further — some would say dangerously so.

In many ways, these men (there are virtually zero women among their number) are the proper inheritors of the “robber baron” title today; they’ve become so wealthy, most often through unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities of timing and markets, that the rest of us can’t ever hope to come anywhere near their gargantuan fortunes.

Their companies have a permanent presence in Washington, D.C. and rank among the very top retainers of lobbying firms. Left unencumbered, these “masters of the universe” could have a very real potential of ruling over the lives of nearly everyone on the planet in some way for the rest of our lifetimes.

Even now, rumors have been floated that tech billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Cuban might want to run for president in 2020 or 2024. Nearly all of these men are large contributors to the Democratic Party and have met with Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris both one-on-one and in groups.

High among their concerns are that immigrants keep flowing across the country’s borders in order to keep their biggest costs — intelligent labor — low. Quick to outsource to foreign countries and even quicker to leave profits offshore to evade taxes, these billionaires are extremely adept at using the law and corrupt politicians to their advantage.

For most of them, the concerns of the common man (the users of their properties) rank far beneath whatever it is that will further expand and perpetuate their empires. The gap between their ilk and that of the working class has multiplied in the last two decades, at the expense of America’s middle class.

Like the robber barons of old, these men are addicted to money, and they can never have enough of it to satisfy their own egos. To them, the laws of the United States are just a tool to access more wealth, and whatever political levers and switches they need to throw in order to get their way are simply a means toward an ultimate end.

After more than 20 years in many cases, it’s now long past time to put the regulatory brakes on these people’s ventures and business power grabs before we turn into a society ruled by technology and a few men behind thin, oversized flat-panel displays. Companies that have too much power and too much wealth concentrated in too few hands may need to be broken up just as the railroad concerns, oil cartels and steel companies of the original robber baron days were by Washington.