In Washington, the best way to get good press is to announce you’re leaving. Case in point: Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (call him Jay), D-W.Va., is stepping down when his term ends. And The Washington Post makes haste to bring him laud.
“Jay Rockefeller wasn’t ever going to be just some Democratic senator from West Virginia,” writes Manuel Roig-Franzia. The story intimates this is because Rockefeller, as an heir to a vast fortune earned through unbridled capitalism, needed to make amends. “He found a way to be a Rockefeller that was about serving people,” the senator’s longtime political adviser, Geoff Garin, told the newspaper.
Well, hold on just a moment: the senator’s great-grandfather probably did more to “serve people” than anyone in history. He just did so in pursuit of profits. John D. Rockefeller, of course, created Standard Oil. Liberal legend claims that Rockefeller crushed competition and acted as a cruel monopolist.
But as Alex Epstein explained in the Daily Caller, Standard Oil actually helped consumers, by driving down prices. “In 1865, when Rockefeller’s market share was still minuscule, a gallon of kerosene cost 58 cents. In 1870, Standard’s market share was 4 percent, and a gallon cost 26 cents,” Epstein notes. “By 1880, when Standard’s market share had skyrocketed to 90 percent, a gallon cost only 9 cents -- and a decade later, with Standard’s market share still at 90 percent, the price was 7 cents.”
Inexpensive oil products made heating and lighting a home cheaper and safer, thus saving lives and increasing human productivity. Not to mention eliminating the need for whale oil, and thus preventing those mammals from being hunted to extinction. And when the light bulb began to make kerosene obsolete, the refining industry ramped up gasoline production instead, providing the fuel that would usher in the automotive era.
Americans were now able to live where they wanted, how they wanted. They were able to eat fresh food delivered by trucks. Entire industries grew up around the car. Industries as diverse as automobile manufacturing, housing and retail sales all boomed in large part because of Rockefeller’s innovation. He helped create opportunity for untold millions of Americans.