An eerie familiarity

One of my favorite examples of polemic is from the conclusion to Henry Adams’ essay “A Chapter of Erie,” detailing the corruption that surrounded the development of the Erie Railroad in the 1860s in New York. It remains as relevant today as when it was written, if not more so.

Modern society has created a class of artificial beings who bid fair soon to be the masters of their creator. It is but a very few years since the existence of a corporation controlling a few millions of dollars was regarded as a subject of grave apprehension, and now this country already contains single organizations which wield a power represented by hundreds of millions. These bodies are the creatures of single States; but in New York, in Pennsylvania, in Maryland, in New Jersey, and not in those States alone, they are already establishing despotisms which no spasmodic popular effort will be able to shake off. Everywhere, and at all times, however, they illustrate the truth of the old maxim of the common law, that corporations have no souls. Only in New York has any intimation yet been given of what the future may have in store for us should these great powers become mere tools in the hands of ambitious, reckless men. The system of corporate life and corporate power, as applied to industrial development, is yet in its infancy. It tends always to development, – always to consolidation, – it is ever grasping new powers, or insidiously exercising covert influence. Even now the system threatens the central government. Continue reading