America’s experiment with laissez-faire capitalism in the 1800s was a disaster, historians tell us, because businessmen used anticompetitive tactics to form giant, invincible monopolies. The textbook example of these evils of Big Business is John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust. In an era before government regulations and antitrust laws, the story goes, Rockefeller wielded market power to squelch innovative competitors and jack up consumer prices at will.
The textbooks need to be rewritten, argues Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Center. In this talk, Epstein tells the true story of Rockefeller’s rise to market dominance. Rockefeller’s success was not based on shady practices but on his company’s remarkable ability to bring the best oil to millions of Americans at the cheapest prices. Did Standard Oil abolish competition? Far from it. The company’s success actually made the oil market far more competitive, innovative, and productive. The story of Standard Oil, it turns out, does not reveal evils of Big Business but illustrates its great virtues.