Gabriel Kolko, the influential New Left historian whose Railroads and Regulation (1965) and The Triumph of Conservatism (1963) offered a radical challenge to the prevailing, “public interest” account of business regulation, died yesterday. Murray Rothbard admired Kolko and helped popularize Kolko’s view that “progressive” regulations were nearly always the joint work of protectionist business leaders and self-aggrandizing politicians. As Rothbard wrote in “Left and Right”:
Orthodox historians have always treated the Progressive period (roughly 1900-1916) as a time when free-market capitalism was becoming increasingly “monopolistic”; in reaction to this reign of monopoly and big business, so the story runs, altruistic intellectuals and far-seeing politicians turned to intervention by the government to reform and regulate these evils. Kolko’s great work demonstrates that the reality was almost precisely the opposite of this myth. Despite the wave of mergers and trusts formed around the turn of the century, Kolko reveals, the forces of competition on the free market rapidly vitiated and dissolved these attempts at stabilizing and perpetuating the economic power of big business interests. It was precisely in reaction to their impending defeat at the hands of the competitive storms of the market that business turned, increasingly after the 1900′s, to the federal government for aid and protection. In short, the intervention by the federal government was designed, not to curb big business monopoly for the sake of the public weal, but to create monopolies that big business (as well as trade associations smaller business) had not been able to establish amidst the competitive gales of the free market. Both Left and Right have been persistently misled by the notion that intervention by the government is ipso facto leftish and anti-business. Hence the mythology of the New-Fair Deal-as-Red that is endemic on the Right. Both the big businessmen, led by the Morgan interests, and Professor Kolko almost uniquely in the academic world, have realized that monopoly privilege can only be created by the State and not as a result of free market operations.