I’ve been reading History of the Great American Fortunes, a book published in 1909 by Gustavus Myers. Myers may well have been a Marxist, but his social commentary is right on the mark as he calls out the rich and powerful of the 18th and 19th centuries in this country.
On page 98 of the 1936 edition (though probably written for the first edition in 1909), he notes:
…a profound truth, the force of which mankind is only now beginning to realize, that the pursuit of profit will transform natures inherently capable of much good into sordid, cruel breasts [sic, I think was meant ‘beasts’] of prey and accustom them to committing actions so despicable, so inhuman, that they would be terrified, were it not that the world is under the sway of a profit system and not merely excuses and condones, but justifies and throw a glamour about, the unutterable degradations and crimes which the profit system calls forth.
History has proved, and continues to prove, how prescient this author is. He was condemning the actions of John Jacob Astor, whose minions used liquor–while charging outlandish prices for it, like $50 a gallon–to get Native American drunk and then rob them of their just payment for the furs he later sold to Europe at an immense profit.
And how much does this, from the same page, sound like today?:
Like all other propertied interests, Astor’s company regarded the law as a thing to be rigorously invoked against the poor, the helpless and defenseless, but as not to be considered when it stood in the way of the claims, designs and pretensions of property.
Wall Street, anyone?