Garrett’s The Cinder Buggy read like a gothic romance rather inartfully and naively interspersed with Algeresque bootstrap pulling and passages glorifying entrepreneurs as at once fortune tellers and gods. I enjoyed reading it but I believed none of it.
I enjoyed it because Garrett’s language is pleasurable to read. His descriptions of some of capitalism’s wealthy but morally decrepit retinue are funny and sad, such as this one, from page 290:
“But after they had invested their money in banks and railroads they still had nothing really to do. They built themselves castles, in some cases two or three each, and seldom if ever lived in them because they were so lonesome. One transplanted a full grown forest and it died; he did it again with like result, and a third time, and then he was weary. He never went back to see. They got rid of their old wives and bought new and more expensive ones. Even that made no perceptible hole in their wealth. They tried horses and art and swamped everything they touched. Gambling they forgot. One developed a peacock madness, never wore the same garments more than an hour; his dressing room resembled a clothing store, with hundreds of suits lying on long tables in pressed piles. One had a phantasy for living out the myth of Pan and ceased to be spoken of anywhere. One travelled ceaselessly and carried with him a private orchestra that played him awake and attended his bath. He died presently under the delusion that he had lost all his money and all his friends, which was only half true.
Children of the steel age, overwhelmed in its cinders.”
I didn’t believe any of it in small part because of this passage, from page 327, that as far as I remember is one of only two inflamed skeins of Wasp racism:
“The steel age widened the gap between brain and muscle. It required a higher kind of imagination at the top and a lower grade of labor below. There was no such labor here,-at least, nowhere near enough. Hence an impouring [sic] of Hungarians, Slavs, Polacks and other inferior European types,-hairy, brutish, with slanting foreheads.”
Who needs that kind of language, apart from progressive eugenicists such as Woodrow Wilson and clumsy capitalists searching for reasons labor went sour?
I didn’t believe any of it in larger part because of this passage, from page 290:
“And here were men like John to say: “Give us a tariff protection of six-tenths of a cent a pound for ten years and we will not only make all our own steel wire hereafter but wire for all the world,”-who got it and did it.”
What?!? “Give us a tarriff protection of six-tenths of a cent a pound?” Any one who has read half a dozen pages of Bastiat, from almost any of his volumes, will tell you that tariffs are a libertarian no-no. A big no-no. So in effect, these fictional early steel barons said to the government: “Have the consumer absorb the cost of making us price competitive, and we’ll master the world market.”
Think it about this in the context of Hayek’s dedication in The Constitution of Liberty: “To the unknown civilization that is growing in America.” How much wealthier would America be if its consumers were not coerced into subsidizing the welfare of its wealthiest citizens? How much different would our present, once unknown civilization be had its productive powers not been sapped by protectionism?
This passage blows the bottom out of Garrett’s premise that mighty, forward thinking Promethean industrialists and financiers conquered the elements of earth and human self-interest to midwife the glorious steel age. They took a tin cup to Uncle Sam is what they did!
I was more surprised to read this brief passage than I was to read Mises defending the draft in Human Action!