My life was never destined to be quite happy. It was laid out along lines which I could not foresee, almost from earliest childhood. It has left me with nothing to hope for, with nothing definite to seek or strive for. Inherited wealth is a real handicap to happiness. It is as certain death to ambition as cocaine is to morality.
If a man makes money, no matter how much, he finds a certain happiness in its possession, for in the desire to increase his business, he has a constant use for it. But the man who inherits it has none of this. The first satisfaction, and the greatest, that of building the foundation of a fortune, is denied him. He must labor, if he does labor, simply to add to an oversufficiency.
Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, quoted in Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt:
Within thirty years after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt in 1877, no member of his family was among the richest people in the United States, having been supplanted by such new titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick, and Ford. Forty-eight years after his death, one of his direct descendants died penniless. Within seventy years of his death, the last of the great Vanderbilt mansions on Fifth Avenue had made way for modern office buildings. When 120 of the Commodore’s descendants gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them.
“Any fool can make a fortune,” the Commodore had told his son William, whom he still called Billy, shortly before he died. “It takes a man of brains to hold on to it after it is made.”
* Rockefeller equated silence with strength: Weak men had loose tongues and blabbed to reporters, while prudent businessmen kept their own counsel. Two of his most cherished maxims were “Success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth closed” and “A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds.”
* Far more than a technocrat, Rockefeller was an inspirational leader who exerted a magnetic power over workers and especially prized executives with social skills. “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee,” he once said, “and I pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.” Employees were invited to send complaints or suggestions directly to him, and he always took an interest in their affairs.
* At meetings, Rockefeller had a negative capability: The quieter he was, the more forceful his presence seemed, and he played on his mystique as the resident genius immune to petty concerns. As one director recalled, “I have seen board meetings, when excited men shouted profanity and made menacing gestures, but Mr. Rockefeller, maintaining the utmost courtesy, continued to dominate the room.”
* Standard Oil had taught the American public an important but paradoxical lesson: Free markets, if left completely to their own devices, can wind up terribly unfree. Competitive capitalism did not exist in a state of nature but had to be defined or restrained by law. Unfettered markets tended frequently toward monopoly or, at least, toward unhealthy levels of concentration, and government sometimes needed to intervene to ensure the full benefits of competition.
* “Great wealth is a great burden, a great responsibility. It invariably proves to be one of two things—either a great blessing or a great curse.”
* To Rockefeller, the least imaginative use of money was to give it to people outright instead of delving into the causes of human misery. “That has been our guiding principle, to benefit as many people as possible. Instead of giving alms to beggars, if anything can be done to remove the causes which lead to the existence of beggars, then something deeper and broader and more worthwhile will have been accomplished.”
* Rockefeller reviewed every bill that arrived at home and often patrolled the hallways, turning off gaslights. Such habits were not simply reflexive stinginess but were rooted in bedrock beliefs about the value of money.
* “A man’s wealth must be determined by the relation of his desires and expenditures to his income. If he feels rich on ten dollars, and has everything else he desires, he really is rich.”
Tina Rosenberg, writing in The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism:
The Stasi complex on Normannenstrasse in the Lichtenberg district consisted of 41 brown concrete buildings. In addition, the Stasi possessed 1,181 safe houses, 305 vacation homes, 98 sports facilities, and 18,000 apartments for meetings with spies. The Stasi had a budget of 4 billion East German marks. It had 97,000 full-time employees—after the army, it was East Germany’s largest employer. There were 2,171 mail readers, 1,486 phone tappers, and another 8,426 people who monitored phone conversations and radio broadcasts. In addition, there were about 110,000 active unofficial collaborators and perhaps ten times that many occasional informants. The Stasi kept files on 6 million people. There were 39 separate departments—even a department to spy on other Stasi members. A master file with a single card for each Stasi employee, collaborator, and object of surveillance stretches for more than a mile—the cards for people named Müller alone reach a hundred yards. Stacked up, the Stasi’s complete files reached 125 miles. They weighed fifty tons per mile; in total, 62,500 tons.
* Advertising developed in part as a result of mass production; likewise, it was said that advertising made mass production possible. Firms decided that there was a limit to attracting customers through lower prices, and they tried the alternative strategy of increasing volume by brand-centric advertising. Although advertising began in the late nineteenth century with the development of the first branded products, its true explosion came in the 1920s, when it became increasingly tied to the newly invented radio.
* Electric lights are an example of a technology that had a great burst of innovation early, in this case 1880–1920, and then stood still afterwards. Although the fluorescent bulb had come to dominate lighting in commercial and industrial settings by 1950, virtually nothing changed in home illumination from 1920 until the development of the compact fluorescent bulb after 1990.
* The current system of airport security all over the world represents an overreaction to the September 11, 2001, hijackings. There was only one weakness in the U.S. airline security system on September 11, and this was that the cockpit doors were flimsy. Within days, they were replaced by completely secure doors that nobody could break through. Although the security issue was completely solved within a week, fourteen years later billions of dollars per year of passenger time continues to be wasted in unnecessary additional security precautions. The pre-2001 security system, based on a quick walk through an X-ray machine to check for guns and metal weapons, would be enough.
* If any year can be anointed as the beginning of the Internet revolution, it is 1995. The introduction of Windows 95 was a sensation, creating long lines of eager buyers waiting for hours in front of stores that would sell it before the doors opened on August 24, 1995. This version of Windows represented the transitional moment in the history of the Internet in that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, a web browser derived from Mosaic, was available as an add-on to Windows 95.
* Virtually every firm making consumer goods (except for basic food and clothing products) had been forced to make something else during World War II, and every one of these producers learned to be more efficient from the process.
* The unrivaled autonomy of the medical profession began to erode after the 1950s. As hospitals became larger and more complex, administrative control fell increasingly into the hands of professional administrators. Patients also began to challenge the authority of the medical profession. While “for the most part, the authority of the doctor was unquestioned” in 1960, with the surgical profession even earning such high praise as being called a “religion of competence,” by the early 1970s patients were demanding greater say in how they were treated. What had always been a tradition of “doctors know best” changed in 1972 when a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., for the first time established a legal requirement for informed consent. “According to the new standard, the physician had to tell the patient whatever ‘a reasonable person’ would want to know in order to decide whether to accept the treatment.” In 1973, responding to increasing pressure from healthcare consumers, the American Hospital Association came out with a Patients’ Bill of Rights.
* One of the most important improvements in American industrial efficiency was the establishment by Herbert Hoover of the National Bureau of Standards. Its aim was to create a system of uniformly sized parts, down to screws and bolts, aimed at “simplification of practice, elimination of waste, conservation of materials, minimum training of workers, reduction and savings in supply purchasing and unwieldy inventories, defeat of confusion, and speed in production.”