Robber Barons

As I've followed the latest news about the world economic situation, I have been struggling to understand what impact it will have on my own personal economic situation.

I recently read about Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers, whose salary and bonus added up to tens of millions of dollars last year. While I'm sure Mr. Fuld's Board of Directors felt that he was creating value for Lehman Brothers and its customers, it sure didn't trickle down to me. But I'm beginning to feel something starting to trickle down over me.

I've also been reading and thinking about all of the "Trophy Houses" (aka "McMansions") I've spotted over the past few years. Most of what I've read is "not in my back yard" stuff, although some of it has to do with public access and environmental concerns.The size and scope of some of these homes remind me of mansions built around the turn of the twentieth century by men like Andrew Carnegie and J. D. Rockefeller, who had amassed tremendous wealth during the Industrial Revolution, and created tangible evidence of that wealth in the form of houses and “cottages” that are visited and admired more than one hundred years later.

While history still characterizes these nineteenth century industrialist millionaires as “Robber Barons” for their exploitation of the working classes, today we love to visit their homes and estates, and we benefit from the work of the foundations their wealth created.

What about the modern Robber Barons – the brokers, bond traders and others who have benefitted so handsomely from the lack of regulation in the marketplace over the last several years, and in the process have done so much harm to the fabric of American life? What will their long-term legacy be, in addition to having the biggest, baddest houses in the neighborhood?