Progressives Used to Fight “Robber Barons.” Now They Support Them.


The far left takes a Marxist interpretation of American history: that America is the most powerful nation on earth because it exploited its own people, plundered and pillaged other countries, and generally cheated its way to the top. They point to the “robber barons” of the late 19th century — men like Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who took the Industrial Revolution to its fullest potential and, though they certainly exploited people along the way, also gave away most of their fortunes to charitable causes. They are messy and complicated figures who did a lot of good, but also a lot of bad to get there.

The progressive movement sprung up in the early 20th century, partly as a response to the incredible economic expansion ushered in by these robber barons. Led by muckrakers like Upton Sinclair and empowered by political figures like Theodore Roosevelt, the progressives became trustbusters who were largely successful in breaking up big, bloated businesses. Today’s 21st century progressives like to point to that legacy and claim that’s what they’re doing now — standing up to big, evil corporations and fighting for the common man.

But the biggest corporations of the 21st century are not enemies of the modern left. They are the heroes of the modern left.

Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review that progressive watchdogs have been silent as Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft become the world’s biggest corporations, building their fortunes on the backs of child labor and horrendous factory conditions in third-world countries overseas. They demand higher taxes on the wealthy, but say nothing about how these Silicon Valley companies route their profits to tax havens like Bermuda. They don’t care that Facebook and Google have cornered the social media and online advertising markets, that Apple is the world’s most profitable corporation, or that Amazon wants to dominate almost every industry from electronics to groceries.

Why don’t they care? I think first reason is that they like these companies’ products. Walk into a Starbucks in a wealthy neighborhood, and you’ll see nothing but iPhones and Macs being used to buy all natural organic soaps on Amazon Prime.

But the second reason is that while these companies have horrendous records of exploitation and consolidation — Apple’s products are produced in Chinese sweatshops, Amazon’s packages are shipped from American sweatshops, and Facebook and Google have virtually monopolized online advertising — they have sterling leftist records when it comes to matters of identity politics.

All these Silicon Valley companies back gay marriage and abortion with hundreds of millions of dollars. They team up with other big corporations to defeat religious freedom legislation. They routinely ban conservatives from their platforms for “hate speech.” They constantly wring their hands about getting more women and minorities on their boards and in their coding labs. And they fire anyone who doesn’t get in line.

How long will this cognitive dissonance last? How long will the secular left continue to practice hypocrisy?

Read the National Review piece by Hanson. It’s well worth it.

Thomas Valentine

Thomas Valentine is a columnist for

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