The Myth of the Roosevelt “Trustbusters”

From The New Republic by Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind:

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, amid growing concerns about income inequality and wage stagnation, politicians and pundits on the left and right have blamed the problems of twenty-first-century America on a familiar populist scapegoat: big business. The solution, they say, can be found in the nation’s past—in particular, the reign of two twentieth-century presidents.

In the early 1900s, the narrative goes, Theodore Roosevelt waged war on corporate concentration as a crusading “trustbuster.” A generation later, during the Great Depression, his cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt stood up for small banks against Wall Street’s big bullies. The Roosevelts saved America from plutocracy and created a golden age for the middle class. Thus, many argue, we need a new generation of trustbusters to save us from the robber barons of tech and banking.

It makes for a compelling case. But it’s based on a false history.

Teddy Roosevelt was far from the business-bashing “trustbuster” of popular memory. The Republican president distinguished between “good” and “bad” trusts, telling Congress in 1905, “I am in no sense hostile to corporations. This is an age of combination, and any effort to prevent combination will not only be useless, but in the end, vicious…”

Read the rest of the article at The New Republic

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