- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2012

The History Channel recently concluded “The Men Who Built America,” a mini-series about the former titans of industry — Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Morgan and Ford. These men built America from the ground up in the 50 years following the Civil War. They embodied the values of innovation, competition and, most of all, hard work.

Often derided in today’s textbooks as “robber barons,” their lives demonstrated how great things were possible from humble beginnings. Most of these giants were born to poor or working-class families. They fought tooth and nail to make the American dream a reality, but they didn’t have to face many of the obstacles American businessmen see today.

Henry Ford, son of an immigrant, brought the freedom of automobile travel within the reach of the common man. Andrew Carnegie, born in a one-room cottage, created the steel that served as the backbone of industrial society. John D. Rockefeller, the son of a traveling salesman, provided the oil that fueled the conveniences of modern life. Cornelius Vanderbilt grew up working on his father’s ferry and went on to link the country through rail travel. J.P. Morgan was born to an already prosperous family, but he offered the financing and management skill that brought business into the modern era.

The truth is, men of this caliber still exist in America — and their last names aren’t just Trump or Gates. These individuals still believe in the spirit of invention and are constantly hunting for more efficient ways of getting from point A to point B. They’re frequently held back by overzealous bureaucrats and a tax system designed not to reward success, but to punish it.

Liberals truly believe small businessmen “didn’t build that.” They believe the auditors, inspectors and tax collectors are the source of private industry’s strength. The opposite is the case. In May, Chief Executive magazine surveyed 650 top CEOs, asking them to rank the conditions for starting and operating a business. Not surprisingly, states with over-the-top regulation and taxation like New York and California came in dead last, while low-tax states like Texas and Florida came out on top. The reality hits home as well-known firms like Apple, eBay, Campbell’s Soup and Comcast have moved thousands of jobs out of the once Golden State in search of a less hostile environment.

It wasn’t always this way. The great ideas of the past didn’t come from a government agency. They came from individuals who invested their own sweat and capital to bring their dreams to life. Today, it’s Uncle Sam doling out the venture capital, spreading around taxpayer cash to manufacturers of solar panels and flammable electric cars. These propped-up businesses go belly-up when the subsidies run out, leaving America worse off.

By contrast, the titans of industry made this country what it is today. The lesson of history is that individuals are far more effective at allocating resources because they’re spending the money they earned. It’s theirs. They built it.

The Washington Times