The Man Who Saved the Whales

My new Forbes column is up, and discusses two of the most vilified men in history.  One ended (at least for a while) the blight of government enforced monopoly in industry.  The other saved the whales.


  1. caseyboy:

    Excellent column. I only wish we could unleash the same type of entrepreneurial spirit today. However, between high taxes and never ending regulations even Rockfeller might be daunted.

  2. Another guy named Dan:

    Another factor that gets overlooked: The railroad rebate plan for which Standard Oil was villified wsa made possible only because government subsidies had led to a massive overbuilding of railroads in parts of the country.

  3. Capt Grandpa:

    If Obama and Co. had been in charge back then, the government would have bailed out the whaling fleet to save all those union jobs.

  4. Doug Wolf:

    Great column. I've passed it around to friends and loved ones, and for some of them, this will be the first time they've ever heard such a notion. "Rockefeller saved the whales" is going to make for some entertaining conversation this coming Thanksgiving :-)

  5. Gil:

    Gee, and there's no other reason to hunt whales? Shame it didn't work for the Passenger Pigeon. Though I doubt few AMerican would like to drenched in pigeon poop. Then again how many believe that people are free to hunt whatever unowned animals they like and Greenies have no right to intervene.

  6. me:

    Gil could you please not smoke weed before you post. Thanks

  7. Not Sure:

    "Gee, and there’s no other reason to hunt whales?"

    Sure there are. Eliminating one of them is a good thing, no?

    "Shame it didn’t work for the Passenger Pigeon."

    I imagine it might have, had they been hunted for their oil.

    "Though I doubt few AMerican would like to drenched in pigeon poop."

    Hard to argue with that.

    "Then again how many believe that people are free to hunt whatever unowned animals they like and Greenies have no right to intervene."

    Careful now- you're just about to make an argument in favor of property rights. Are you *sure* that's what you want to do?

  8. Gil:

    Not Sure:

    The Passenger Pigeon was hunted for food and went extinct because they were cheap and easy to kill but were slow breeders. Likewise how much did governments intervene in the plight of the whales? After all, if oil was the only reason to hunt whales then whaling would have disspated well in the very early 20th century and it would not be a storyline for a certain "Star Trek" movie.


    "Pro-whaling advocates also argue that whaling continues to provide employment in the fishery, logistic and restaurant industries and that whale blubber can be converted into valuable oleochemicals while whale carcasses can be rendered into meat and bone meal. Poorer whaling nations argue that the need for resumption of whaling is pressing. Horace Walters, from the Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Commission stated, 'We have islands which may want to start whaling again - it's expensive to import food from the developed world, and we believe there's a deliberate attempt to keep us away from our resources so we continue to develop those countries' economies by importing from them.'"

  9. Not Sure:

    "The Passenger Pigeon was hunted for food and went extinct because they were cheap and easy to kill but were slow breeders."

    Which is why I said if they had been hunted for oil instead, they might have had a better chance at survival.

    "After all, if oil was the only reason to hunt whales then whaling would have disspated well in the very early 20th century..."

    I don't think anyone has suggested (at least, I haven't, anyway) that there was only one reason for hunting whales.

  10. commieBob:

    Rocky-Feller did, undoubtedly, save the whales. He just didn't do it deliberately. I don't think there is any evidence that he actually cared about the whales.

    There is a documentary 'The Corporation' ( whose thesis is that corporations are little different from psychopaths.

    Most corporations will, through fair means or foul, seek to become monopolies and to crush any possible competition. We, the public, benefit when corporations compete by offering better, less expensive products. We do not benefit when corporations attempt to cut off better, cheaper competition by blackmailing the supplier chain or by burying smaller companies in legal costs.

    The question is whether the government should (through antitrust legislation) attempt to provide a level playing field.

    I can't think of an example where a corporation has been able to maintain a monopoly forever. Eventually, the problem will solve itself without government intervention. On the other hand, a corporate monopoly can stifle the development of technology for long enough to do real damage to the economy and the nation. On balance, I favor breaking up corporations once they become monopolies if that will foster real competition in the market place. Breaking Microsoft into an operating system company and a software company would probably have been a good thing. On the other hand, it is becoming senile and may not be in a position to continue its former practices for much longer.

  11. Not Sure:

    Microsoft is not now and has never been a monopoly. So what's to break up?

  12. Simon:

    Microsoft is not now and has never been commieBob's property, either, but that hasn't stopped him from thinking he has any business determining its fate.

  13. Gil:

    Not sure:

    A lot of whales are alive to today because of international agreement (i.e. government) as many private people would hunt whales tomorrow if given the chance. The Passenger Pigeon was hunted for something more important than oil: food. However there's the point of whether governments have a right to regulate the commons especially as whale hunter would be homesteading the whales they kill.

  14. commieBob:

    Not Sure and Simon

    Microsoft came darn close to being broken up.

    "United States v. Microsoft was a set of consolidated civil actions filed against Microsoft Corporation pursuant to the Sherman Antitrust Act on May 18, 1998 by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and 20 U.S. states."

    The only thing that saved Microsoft was the election of Pres. Bush Jr. The DOJ changed its mind and no longer sought to have Microsoft dismembered.

    So: 1 - Microsoft is a convicted monopolist. 2 - I have no way to determine the fate of Microsoft but the courts do.

    My strong opinion, which may differ from yours, is that large corporations are just as dangerous to our freedom as large government. Fire is dangerous too. I would no more argue for the abolition of government or corporations than I would argue for the abolition of fire.

  15. markm:

    "There is a documentary ‘The Corporation’ ( whose thesis is that corporations are little different from psychopaths."

    Someone who styles his name after a government of psychopaths perhaps ought to go back to wikipedia and look up "projection".

    However, it is true - large organizations are psychopathic. Corporation, government, non-profit, or church, if they become big enough they will find it necessary to absolve their officers and operatives of individual responsibility, and thereby of conscience. But solving the problem of conscienceless corporations by giving conscienceless governments more power to control how people associate with each other is simply insane.

  16. Barak A. Pearlmutter:

    Two questions, really requests for clarification, because I'm curious and just don't know. (a) When Std Oil opened its books to competitors to show how low its costs were, did the big whammy in there consist of mainly "fair" things, like cheaper chemical processes and economies of scale, or mainly "unfair" things, like lower railroad transport costs due to Std Oil requiring railroads with which it did business to charge high minimum prices to competitors? (b) To what degree did Std Oil's dramatic decrease in market share prior to its breakup result from Std Oil being scared of the ongoing legal proceedings and therefore curtailing its previous hardball tactics, versus being due to issues that would have come up even had Std Oil not been running scared?

  17. Not Sure:

    Regardless of what some government official ruled in the court case (unless you ignore the actual meaning of the word and substitute something different), Microsoft was not (and is not) a monopoly. Two words- "Apple" and "Linux". There are almost certainly others.

    "My strong opinion, which may differ from yours, is that large corporations are just as dangerous to our freedom as large government."

    You need to think about this a little more. Government is indeed dangerous to our freedom because they have a monopololy on the use of force in order to make you do what they want you to. Corporations, on the other hand, do not have this power.

    As much as Microsoft might want to, they cannot force you to buy their product or prevent you from developing your own computer operating system without resorting to the use of government to enforce their desires.

  18. commieBob:

    You aren't wrong. A lot/most of the time, the government and corporations are in cahoots with each other.

    I think the Tea Party is awakening to a couple of simple truths:

    "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session. "

    "It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

    The society which gives each person the maximum liberty is not characterized by more government or less government. Complete laissez-faire is can be every bit as dangerous as totalitarianism. Liberty depends on a significant part of society caring deeply enough to demand their liberty and that of their neighbors. Again a quote:

    "They came first for the Communists,
    and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and by that time no one was left to speak up."

    The opposite of government is not freedom. The opposite of government is failed state. If the government is insufficiently strong, someone will take over; gangsters and warlords.

    Sorry for the long post but I do really think that the question of how much government we need is barking up the wrong tree.

  19. Jim Collins:

    Funny how Microsoft's problems started after it was hit up for a big campaign contribution by the DNC to help put Clinton in office and Gates told them to "buzz off".

  20. IgotBupkis:

    Good piece.

  21. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    > Microsoft is not now and has never been a monopoly. So what’s to break up?

    Yeah, that's how they killed Netscape, Gates just said, "Hey, guys, we want to beat you in the browser market. Do you mind?"

    And the people at NS said, "Hey, Bill, sure -- no problem!"

    No, M$ instigated a wide array of anti-competitive measures, including defacto paying companies to NOT install the NS browser on new machines, DESPITE the fact that it represented more than 80% of the existing market at the onset of IE, and clearly belonged on everyone's machine as a defacto option -- "Belonged", btw, because IE always lagged behind the alternatives extremely -- IE4 lacked many features common to NS2, released more than 3 years prior to IE4. Likewise, IE6 lacked one of the more obviously beneficial features called "tabbed browsing" -- implemented on NS4, many years prior.

    In other words, IE never, ever competed by being "better than the alternative". Nor did it compete on price -- NS was always available for free, just as IE was. Firefox and Opera, both generally superior, have also always been free.

    No, IE competed by using dirty tricks to insert inertia into the usage process which it took full advantage of. Most of those dirty tricks tie to M$'s monopolistic practices...

    Example -- Microsoft has implemented, in its computer language/development tools, specific protocols -- most of them in direct violation of existing, established programming standards -- which make writing code specifically functional ONLY on IE easier. M$ uses their development tools to force people to use IE and not alternatives.

    Example -- In the early days, when M$ was playing "catchup" with NS, they specifically gave a lower price for licensing Windows and/or the Office products, if the company did NOT install NS on their machines from the factory. The end user could add it, as could a reseller -- but a typical user did not bother.

    Example -- if you buy a computer from a company that sells Windows machines, you're almost certainly paying, in the price of that machine, for a copy of Windows -- even if you order it WITHOUT Windows at all, including WITH an alternative, such as a Linux implementation -- preinstalled. It is a standard element of M$'s contracts with computer manufacturers that they get a piece of every machine that company sells which it sells AT ALL with Windows on it (servers are often the only exclusion to this rule, since many models are offered without Windows' excreble server products).

    If a company wants to sell ANY machines with Windows on it, it must accept this deal. That pretty much NO company can refuse M$ and go with an alternative and stay in business outside of some specialty-niche market says what M$ actually is... a monopoly.

    So trust me. M$ is and has long been a defacto monopoly in the market. As with Standard oil, it almost lost that position by missing the significance of the browser-as-interface.

    It's now facing a moderate competition from several other sources, none of which really target the main segment of the market (The Mac targets total neophiles -- both the noob type and the non-technical-mind type. Linux targets the opposite end of the tech spectrum, though it is slowly getting some capacity to give it inroads to the main market segment -- there is currently no substantial competitor for the other 80-90% of the market). The closest thing to that is the variant notions of web-based computing and cloud computing and so forth, which might be able to steal a march on M$, but that has yet to be proven.

    I'm very much a free-market man myself. I'd like to see M$ broken up into three or four companies -- each of which has full access to EVERY ONE its existing products and source code, and each of the three of which is free to modify and market its own improvements and variations on that product.

    THAT would be a truly competitive, "free" marketplace.

  22. ADiff:

    The reason the Passenger Pigeon was harvested to extinction was they were unowned, easily exploited and vulnerable. If someone had owned the resource, they'd still be around. Ditto the Dodo, the Great Awk, the Steller Sea Cow....and the many species extinguished in the centuries prior to market improvements providing at least some 'ownership' interest in wildlife resources, a process still underway....

    Where someone owns elephants, and can profit from them, there will always be elephants. When they belong to no one, and no one can profit from them, sooner or later they will certainly vanish.

  23. Gil:

    Owning critters bring the risk of being liable for the damage they cause. Not to mention many critters can't be confined to cages.

  24. caseyboy:

    What was the original point of this post again? Save the passenger pigeon? Big, bad Microsoft? Corporatism?

    Warren, you are going to have to do more frequent posts. Too much pent up gobblely gook got poured into this one.