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Sunday, May 31, 2009 - 6:07pmSanction this postReply
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I hurried out the review because the book is due at the library soon.  Tonight I finished it.  It was pretty exciting, Harriman and Kuhn Loeb trying to raid the Great Northern, Hill buying up in defense.  The price rose, of course.  Some speculators guessed wrong and, not knowing the cause, shorted.  Caught short, they sold other assets.  The bubble burst on Wall Street.  That got the attention of the White House.  Roosevelt the First stepped in with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  His goal was to prevent the unification of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern. 

That merger was long-sought by many because both lines suffered from the long, empty miles.  They raced to the coast.  Both won.  A unified system was the logical conclusion.

Not so, said the White House.

But life went on for everyone, nonetheless, and despite another century of having its death announced, capitalism continued.

This biography opens much more by way of explanation.  Railroading was arguably the single most complex and complicated technological undertaking up to that point in history.  Not only were the physical logistics challenging, this book is about the financial engines of creation, without which the technology would not matter.  (That, I believe is a recent Mises.Org blog: Technology is useless without capital.)  For many years -- ultimately into our time -- railroad theorists (who devised board policies) believed that 500 miles of track was the limit of frontline organization.  From that the "division" system was adopted by all the long-distance lines.  Indeed, for many years, the First Division of J.J. Hill's St. Paul line was run as an independent financial entity because it generated the income that kept alive the long north-south link to Cedar Rapids. 

Bonds, second mortgages, common stock and preferred...  Repeated bankruptcies and reorganizations...  The tumultous times rewarded a great many men with widely different personalities and divergent ethical convictions.  John Stewart Kennedy was patient, diplomatic, thrifty, and loyal... often to competing interests ... a man who found personal profit in scrupulous self-interest.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 5/31, 6:55pm)




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