Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
September 12, 2021

Robber Barons vs. Tech Giants - Are We Learning From Our Past?

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History Rhymes 

Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” History of course can’t exactly repeat itself. There are too many variables at play that differentiate circumstances. However, those circumstances can still be similar. Because of that, we can still learn from the past, though we often don’t. A case in point is the similarity between various global monopolies and those of the robber barons in the later part of the 19th century. 

These men controlled vast swaths of the United States economy, giving them the ability to have a huge effect on national policy and to dictate their employees’ lives far beyond anything that most people in the Western world will have experienced. Not only would they use their large coffers to ‘lobby’ politicians, they would also buy out anyone who looked to be a competitive threat. One might reasonably point out that these start-up companies didn’t have to sell. Technically, that’s true. In reality, that underestimates the determination of the bigger companies. They would simply charge their potential rivals higher prices for goods or services they provided, or persuade their friends in business to do so. The pressure would become so great that it would sell out or go bankrupt. Should someone continue to resist, it could get ugly. Just go look into the way Edison harassed Tesla. Or the Pinkerton Detective Agency and its role in suppressing unions. 

There were of course the justly maligned company towns. While mostly associated with mining companies, there were a few variations on the theme. In their most well-known format, the company town was a place where the employees lived and bought most of their stuff. And everything was owned by the company. That meant rent was paid to the company, all of a family’s groceries, clothes, and anything else were all paid back to the company. Why couldn’t they buy their stuff elsewhere and break the cycle? Because the company didn’t pay them in cash, they paid them in vouchers or tokens that were only redeemable in the town. Other types of company towns would have certain lifestyle requirements like no drinking or smoking. Think of them as a forerunner of the modern Home Owners’ Association. 

Today, the tech companies look like they are in a similar position as the robber barons of old. They regularly buy out competition. In fact, it recently came out in a congressional hearing that the founders of Instagram felt the need to sell because they would get destroyed otherwise. Tech companies have worked together to censor pundits, governments, officials, even a sitting president. Whether you like the people censored or not, it sets a very dangerous precedent, especially when the same companies will do the bidding of China just for access behind the Great Firewall. 

And of course they can influence markets to an unprecedented degree. By controlling the flow of information and mining data they can swing the stock of whole industries just by what they allow to be said. Just look at the way Elon Musk can swing the price of Bitcoin or DogeCoin just with a tweet. 

There is also evidence that some of these companies are flirting with the idea of the company town again. Their vast sprawling campuses have a variety of services and amenities that make it tempting to basically stay right there. Some, like Facebook, are openly looking at getting into the realm of real estate. Then there are the more recent stories about Blackrock and other firms buying houses at ridiculous prices in Appalachia. The speculation is that they are intentionally pricing out the middle class and looking to force them to become permanent renters. That’s just one general store away from being a modern company town. 

Where will it all lead? It’s hard to say. We dodged a bullet in the robber baron days. It’s hard to say exactly why, but it seems likely that the various communist revolutions that swept Europe in the early twentieth century gave people a wake-up call to change a few things before the same happened here. Can we avoid the pitchforks again? Only time will tell.

What’s your sovereignty worth? www.tartle.co

Feature Image Credit: Envato Elements

For those who are hard of hearing – the episode transcript can be read below:


Alexander McCaig (00:07):

Hello, human beings from 222 countries. Welcome back to TARTLE Cast. Jason, tell me how you really feel.

Jason Rigby (00:13):

How do I feel today? Let me think. I have a fear of missing out. We encourage you to listen to the other two episodes. We just did on that.

Alexander McCaig (00:22):

One with Patrick and Guinness, and then one about [crosstalk 00:00:25].

Jason Rigby (00:25):

International bestseller.

Alexander McCaig (00:26):

World citizen.

Jason Rigby (00:27):

And social media. Yes, world citizen. I love how a global citizen or whatever-

Alexander McCaig (00:30):

A global citizen.

Jason Rigby (00:31):

But one of the things I want to talk about... You know me as well as I do a lot of these books here and then... The books I have in there is about history. And I just find history fascinating. It's interesting maybe because I'm old, but... And yeah the older you get, the more you like history, I think is that way, but-

Alexander McCaig (00:49):

You're obsessed with your own story.

Jason Rigby (00:52):

But one thing that I do find with history, when you go back and read it, is you can see evolutionary patterns that humans make.

Alexander McCaig (01:01):

Are you telling me there's correlations between behaviors and habits we've had in the past? What we're doing now.

Jason Rigby (01:05):


Alexander McCaig (01:06):

Even though technology and time has changed?

Jason Rigby (01:08):

Yeah. Technology is tools for us to use. However, we use them to make do things faster, perform better, all that, but we're still-

Alexander McCaig (01:17):

I love the [inaudible 00:01:17]

Jason Rigby (01:17):

Well, yeah. I was thinking-

Alexander McCaig (01:17):

Do things faster. Do things better.

Jason Rigby (01:21):

I was thinking we're just monkeys in the sense of what we do. So if we can have a better... You saw that chimpanzee. They were showing the picture of him fishing or whatever.

Alexander McCaig (01:32):

No I did not.

Jason Rigby (01:32):

You seen that?

Alexander McCaig (01:34):

No. [crosstalk 00:01:34] You should have shared that in the company Slack.

Jason Rigby (01:37):

No, but whether it saw a human do this or whatever, I don't know. But it created a fishing pole in a line and was fishing in the river.

Alexander McCaig (01:46):

Did it put bait on the end?

Jason Rigby (01:48):

I don't know [crosstalk 00:01:49]

Alexander McCaig (01:49):

I could imagine that it would do the thing in the line, and then it probably see some pull fish out, but it probably misses the part [crosstalk 00:01:55] of the physics with the hook.

Jason Rigby (01:55):

With the hook.

Alexander McCaig (01:56):

And the baiting.

Jason Rigby (01:57):

Yeah. So it's really interesting to... And I don't know if it was just copying or something like that. I don't know the whole story on that, but we'll get some more info on that, but it's funny how we as humans copy. And we do the same mistake over and over and over again because we're not learning. And I think history shows you that.

Alexander McCaig (02:14):

So what mistake are we not learning?

Jason Rigby (02:16):

I want to kind of get into real quick what was happening in, especially here in the United States, 1870s with the railroads.

Alexander McCaig (02:25):

I wasn't here in 1870 in the railroads. Please enlighten me.

Jason Rigby (02:29):

So you know as well as I do.

Alexander McCaig (02:30):

Carnegie. Vanderbilt.

Jason Rigby (02:32):

So how many... Yes, exactly. All of the above.

Alexander McCaig (02:34):

Please tell me.

Jason Rigby (02:35):

Yeah we were going to talk about Santa Fe and Albuquerque because I think it's interesting. But whenever you look at before 1870, how did you get around?

Alexander McCaig (02:45):


Jason Rigby (02:46):

Yeah, or walk. I mean, it was pretty much so-

Alexander McCaig (02:50):

If you couldn't afford a horse, you're walking.

Jason Rigby (02:51):

Yeah. If you can't afford a horse, you're walking. And so people being able to move from a location to a location was pretty limited.

Alexander McCaig (02:59):

Right. [crosstalk 00:03:00].

Jason Rigby (02:59):

All through society too.

Alexander McCaig (03:01):

Was it 50 miles?

Jason Rigby (03:02):

They had boats.

Alexander McCaig (03:03):

Was it 50 miles? People would live their entire lives within a circus or-

Jason Rigby (03:08):


Alexander McCaig (03:08):

Or a radius, or I don't know what that was.

Jason Rigby (03:10):

But even if you got an boat-

Alexander McCaig (03:11):

Diameter of 50 miles.

Jason Rigby (03:12):

Even if you got on a boat, everything in the United States before 1870 for the roads was north and south because everything had to be moved that way. It wasn't until the railroads came on then. We even view it now with the highway structures and stuff. So east to west.

Alexander McCaig (03:25):

Should we go across America? [crosstalk 00:03:29].

Jason Rigby (03:28):

Across America?

Alexander McCaig (03:29):

Yeah. There's more than just coastline. Yeah. There are human beings that live in the center.

Jason Rigby (03:33):

No I love that. But whenever you look at the invention of-

Alexander McCaig (03:39):


Jason Rigby (03:40):

Railroad systems. And you look at the whole process of saying, "Okay, we need to lay track." So we have to create an infrastructure. We know that if we get the cheapest labor known to man, and we know how they did that.

Alexander McCaig (03:53):

Oh, you're talking about-

Jason Rigby (03:54):


Alexander McCaig (03:54):

Oh yeah, slavery.

Jason Rigby (03:57):

And we also know that there was multiple companies, like three or four or five, that were trying to lay track as quickly as possible. Some who even lay them two miles apart from each other.

Alexander McCaig (04:10):

So they could corner the market.

Jason Rigby (04:11):

Yeah. And then they knew when they put tracks down that it would create a city on certain... And that's how Albuquerque and Santa Fe came. We didn't have Santa Fe rolling.

Alexander McCaig (04:22):

Yeah. Because we can move resources to areas that otherwise it was inefficient to get them to.

Jason Rigby (04:27):

Here's the problem. Who controls the resources? Like for instance, they were having issues with, "I'm in bed with this steel company. I'm not in bed with this one." Because they would charge business customers, different amounts. They didn't have a set. And then the airline industry had to be regulated and say, "Okay, this is a set amount. Here's the set amount for tickets." Just because you make more money, I can't charge you more to be on the plane. Which I don't want to get into that because we can get into educational systems and stuff like that.

Jason Rigby (05:06):

But when-

Alexander McCaig (05:06):

I try to live my days calm, but when you say things that trigger me.

Jason Rigby (05:11):

Well, you could see that. I mean, you can see what's happening. The unfairness in higher educational systems. But whenever we look at these railroads, and we see this price fixing, and there was a... I think it was an Idaho and California where they decided to say, "Hey, this customer, we're going to charge more." And so then the company is like, "We can't use you anymore. And you're the only person that has the tracks to our area. So basically buy me out because I'm going to go under." So then they would buy companies pennies on the dollar. And so they were forcing these companies to go bankrupt. And then they would purchase them for pennies.

Alexander McCaig (05:45):

So Robert Barron's corner the market by falsifying demand.

Jason Rigby (05:48):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. Here we go.

Alexander McCaig (05:49):

And then after you've squeezed them out on pricing because they can't compete, then you go and buy them up.

Jason Rigby (05:53):


Alexander McCaig (05:54):

Okay. So what is it that we're not learning from this?

Jason Rigby (05:57):


Alexander McCaig (05:58):

How does this translate to today? Jason, tell me about your thought.

Jason Rigby (06:01):

Well, we have [crosstalk 00:06:02]

Alexander McCaig (06:02):

Here's the thought of the week ladies and gentlemen.

Jason Rigby (06:02):

It's very, very easy. So Mark Zuckerberg went before a Senate Congress. They had him all through everything, all these committees and stuff like that and other companies too. But they begin to ask questions about them because this was the laying of the new communication infrastructure. [crosstalk 00:06:23] So now I'm saying Verizon should be a part of this and AT&T. Not just Google, Amazon, but we're doing commerce, just like we do with the roadways. We're doing commerce online.

Alexander McCaig (06:33):


Jason Rigby (06:33):

And we know with COVID, commerce went up hundreds of percent. So everybody's buying everything online. So now we have this internet highway that we're able to transfer things quickly. We have communication being brought through, and we have a very few select monopolies of companies that are controlling that. And if anybody tries to get in it, they just buy them out. You take Google Ads for instance. You know this as well as I do. And Signal just had this. We're going to end up doing a show on it with Instagram. But it's like, we don't like your ads.

Alexander McCaig (07:09):

Because they don't appreciate your free speech?

Jason Rigby (07:11):


Alexander McCaig (07:12):

We don't want your money because we don't agree with what you have to say or with what you have to say goes against our business model.

Jason Rigby (07:19):

Yeah. Well, I mean, and they can make these statements. How are they able to make these statements and then just kick you off?

Alexander McCaig (07:26):

What's with that?

Jason Rigby (07:27):

How are they able to? Because that's the question I have. Just like these railroad barons, how are they able to have complete monopoly on the internet?

Alexander McCaig (07:38):

And just a complete monopoly on censorship because they hold all these [crosstalk 00:07:43]

Jason Rigby (07:42):

Yeah. We're seeing that now with Twitter canceling people or whatever. And I get that. I understand they're a private company, and they can make the decision to do whatever. And we, as consumers can make the choice to be on there or not.

Alexander McCaig (07:53):


Jason Rigby (07:54):

But there has to be an answer to solving this so that we have decentralization.

Alexander McCaig (08:02):

You know how you solve it? Instead of Google making the decision, they've created the technology. But if this ad is going out, they're not putting an ad on Google to advertise to Google, are they?

Jason Rigby (08:13):

Mm-mm (negative).

Alexander McCaig (08:13):

No, they're advertising it to the rest of the world. So why is it for Google to say the rest of the world can see this or not that? Why wouldn't you let the world determine, let the world vote on whether or not that should be okay? All Google should care about is getting their dollar.

Jason Rigby (08:27):

Yeah. Because if you get the government involved, then you're going to have the same problem that you had in the 1900's. [Crosstalk 00:08:31] Early 1900's, where the railroads were like, "Oh, you want to buy us out?" We had the highway systems are that way. The government's in charge of all those are not privatized, and they're like, "Okay, well then we're not going to do any maintenance or not do anything. We will have very few employees. And we'll just let you handle this government."

Alexander McCaig (08:47):

Think about tech competition.

Jason Rigby (08:48):

Yeah. This is where I'm getting at.

Alexander McCaig (08:49):

Let's get Facebook and Apple and Google. They're buying companies every single day.

Jason Rigby (08:53):

Every day.

Alexander McCaig (08:54):

Multiple. You want to know why? Because anybody who could be an up and coming competitor, buy him out.

Jason Rigby (09:00):


Alexander McCaig (09:01):

And people are like, "Well, fuck it." It's a five to seven year exit. I'm done with my startup. I sold it to Google. I sold it to Apple, blah, blah, blah.

Jason Rigby (09:07):

Well, there was even a message that came out in these hearings. And they brought this up to Mark Zuckerberg. The Instagram founders said, "I have to sell to Mark, or he'll go into complete destruction mode on Instagram." It was in a text that they had from the Instagram founder. And so that's so interesting. It's just that Robert Baron mentality. Like if we have the money, we have the resources. If you don't do this, then we're just going to blow up your company. So I just wanted to bring that out because I think history is so important and understanding how we as humans, if we get away from putting humanity first, like we do at TARTLE, how quickly things can turn for ROI.

Alexander McCaig (09:55):

And this is kind of what we talked about before. Forget the human element. I want to look at someone as how much money can I get out of them.

Jason Rigby (10:05):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

Alexander McCaig (10:06):

That's all you're looking at. You don't look at it about the long term systemic effects of the choices you're making now. Why? Because I got my dollar today. That's all you care about. And then how do I extrapolate my dollar today to say that I have lifetime value later? Get out of here. No one cares about your private equity metrics, right? That's not important. Your metrics should be: Have you enhanced human life? Have you extended the longevity of someone's time on this Earth? Have you increased their probabilities? Have you included them in more opportunity? That's what the focus needs to be on. Not sch-

Jason Rigby (10:40):

And profit can be involved in all of them.

Alexander McCaig (10:42):

And profit will be involved in all that.

Jason Rigby (10:44):


Alexander McCaig (10:44):

But as a secondary effect.

Jason Rigby (10:46):


Alexander McCaig (10:46):

The focus has always been on money first. Well, guess what? Human beings were on this planet before money. Why did money then end up taking the precedent for everything else? You see what I'm saying? The Earth was here before the humans were here. Why are humans taking priority over the Earth?

Jason Rigby (11:01):

Well the humans are the ones that make the decision to decide what money is, what money is.

Alexander McCaig (11:05):


Jason Rigby (11:06):

I mean, it's so simple.

Alexander McCaig (11:08):

It just is.

Jason Rigby (11:10):

I mean, it's very, very simple. So we need to understand that every single person that's listening to this podcast right now has the ability to be powerful. And I'm using power in a good way in the sense of you, signing up on TARTLE. Taking control of your data gives the power back to you and not these robber barons.

Alexander McCaig (11:32):

That is precisely correct. And listen, this is not for us to make them the enemy. Not one day.

Jason Rigby (11:40):


Alexander McCaig (11:41):

This is to say that the individuals are the ones that will always be in control, but this false sensory reality that's been created. This lack of respect for you as a human being, all you have to do is stand up and say, "This is who I am. I'm a human being. I ask that you respect me." And if you don't, you will end up failing, and that's on you.

Jason Rigby (12:01):

Be a data champion. And understand that you have the strength to take back what is most important in your life. And that is your data.

Alexander McCaig (12:11):

Thank you.

Speaker 3 (12:21):

Thank you for listening to TARTLE Cast with your hosts, Alexander McCraig and Jason Rigby. Where humanity steps into the future, and source data defines the path. What's your data worth?