Gabiel Kolko, RIP

Gabriel Kolko died yesterday (May 19, 2014) peacefully at his home in Amsterdam. He was 82.

Kolko was an American historian who wrote about the close connection between the government and big business throughout the Progressive Era and the Cold War. He was considered a leading historian of the New Left, but broke new ground with his analysis of the corporate elite’s successful defeat of the free market by corporatism. Kolko’s thesis “that businessmen favored government regulation because they feared competition and desired to forge a government–business coalition” is one that is echoed by many observers today.

Murray Rothbard used Kolko’s writings extensively in his many analyses of the ruling class, most notably in his book Wall Street Banks and American Foreign Policy. In Rothbard’s 1965 essay, Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty, he said of Kolko:

In his Triumph of Conservatism, Kolko traces the origins of political capitalism in the “reforms” of the Progressive Era. Orthodox historians have always treated the Progressive period (roughly 1900-1916) as a time when free-market capitalism was becoming increasingly “monopolistic”; in reaction to this reign of monopoly and big business, so the story runs, altruistic intellectuals and far-seeing politicians turned to intervention by the government to reform and regulate these evils. Kolko’s great work demonstrates that the reality was almost precisely the opposite of this myth. Despite the wave of mergers and trusts formed around the turn of the century, Kolko reveals, the forces of competition on the free market rapidly vitiated and dissolved these attempts at stabilizing and perpetuating the economic power of big business interests. It was precisely in reaction to their impending defeat at the hands of the competitive storms of the market that business turned, increasingly after the 1900’s, to the federal government for aid and protection. In short, the intervention by the federal government was designed, not to curb big business monopoly for the sake of the public weal, but to create monopolies that big business (as well as trade associations smaller business) had not been able to establish amidst the competitive gales of the free market. Both Left and Right have been persistently misled by the notion that intervention by the government is ipso facto leftish and anti-business. Hence the mythology of the New-Fair Deal-as-Red that is endemic on the Right. Both the big businessmen, led by the Morgan interests, and Professor Kolko almost uniquely in the academic world, have realized that monopoly privilege can only be created by the State and not as a result of free market operations. The entire article is available on the Mises.org website.

Kolko continued to write until recently, often for Antiwar.com. He was a strong booster and financial supporter of Antiwar.com for many years. He emailed me several times a month with observations and recommendations for the site. I will miss him and remember his importance to the fight against the War Party.

Funeral services will be held on Friday, May 23 at 11:15am in the auditorium of Uitvaart-centrum Watergraafsmeer, Zaaiersweg 2, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

9 thoughts on “Gabiel Kolko, RIP”

  1. An illuminating farewell to Kolko.
    The state and very large scale capitalism, especially finance capital, are always tightly intertwined.
    How could it be otherwise?

  2. Big businesses only believe in government intervention if it's to their advantage. There should be more government intervention when the companies wreck the environment and cause disasters. BP could have prevented the disaster in the gulf. Exxon could have prevented the disaster at Valdez, Alaska. Oil companies should take steps to prevent disasters. Coal companies should take steps to prevent disasters and make it easier to rescue trapped miners.

  3. The amount of oil spilt by Deepwater Horizon is dwarfed by the amount of oil spilt during the first Gulf War. Yet the former gets more attention than the latter because the latter can only be blamed on "government intervention" and not big business.

    But the story is more nuanced than that. When government intervenes in one big business, it is always at the behest of some other, more politically-connected big business. Kolko's point is that these politically-connected big businesses will always pretend that such intervention is motivated by "altruistic intellectuals and far-seeing politicians."

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