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Robber Barons of Today

Dave Zweifel’s Plain Talk: Glad to put 2017 in the rear-view mirror

The Trump cartoon is referring to a cartoon, “History repeats itself: The Robber Barons of the Middle Ages and the Robber Barons of Today.” drawn by Samuel Ehrhardt that appeared in Puck in 1889.

In the Middle Ages a robber baron was an unscrupulous feudal landlord who robbed merchants, land travelers, and others who trespassed on his property.

In the period after the Civil War through the early 1900s, the United States underwent a huge economic expansion. During its industrial revolution the U.S. economy leapt forward, and was soon the largest economy in the world, bigger than Germany and France combined. Railroads spread across the U.S., opening up new markets.

The workers called these businessmen “robber barons.” The meaning behind the word “robber” should be obvious enough — when the vast majority of the workforce barely earned a subsistence wage, when the entire economy was a sweatshop economy, then the workers felt the few who lived lives of luxury off their labor were “robbing” the workers. Sound familiar?