George F. Will for The Washington Post:
Boudreaux says that if you had Rockefeller’s riches back then, you could have had a palatial home on Fifth Avenue, another overlooking the Pacific, and a private island if you wished. Of course, going to and from the coasts in your private but un-air-conditioned railroad car would be time-consuming and less than pleasant. And communicating with someone on the other coast would be a sluggish chore.
Commercial radio did not arrive until 1920, and 1916 phonographs would lacerate 2017 sensibilities, as would 1916’s silent movies. If in 1916 you wanted Thai curry, chicken vindaloo or Vietnamese pho, you could go to the phone hanging on your wall and ask the operator (direct dialing began in the 1920s) to connect you to restaurants serving those dishes. The fact that there were no such restaurants would not bother you because in 1916 you had never heard of those dishes, so you would not know what you were missing.
The list of living standard differences between 2016 and 1916 is endless. And aside from flying cars, those who dreamed of what the future would look like 100 years after 1916 probably envisioned much of what we enjoy today.
While I don’t think George F. Will intended for this, I appreciate his subconscious premise that capitalism has drastically improved poverty rates, life expectancy rates, child mortality rates, and overall standards of living. Thanks to competition and cut-throat capitalistic innovation, modern refrigeration has been given to the masses, inter-continental travel is affordable for more than the ultra-rich, medicinal advances have drastically improved life expectancy, and I can type on the same supercomputer as someone who owns a private jet.
It’s odd to see a Washington Post article so greatly define the successes of modern capitalism, but I applaud George F. Will for realizing the democratization of technology through the hand of business and not the hand of government.
UPDATE: John D. Rockefeller had an estimated personal net worth of $340 billion at one point during his life — more than 4 times that of the world’s current richest individual, Bill Gates. What’s even more staggering: Rockefeller was attributed as much as 1.5% of the entire economic output of the United States of America.
Some public companies can experience major stock price shifts if Warren Buffett buys or sells a position. In Rockefeller’s case, entire countries would feel a buy or sell.