Kevin Price
Burt Folsom understands economic history
By Kevin Price
June 23, 2011

One of the greatest crisis facing academia today is the one dimensional perspectives that are pervasive in virtually all disciplines. Consensus historians seem to rule the day as professors and our universities consistently fail to offer or even consider the various interpretations one can have on issues throughout academia and in the social sciences in particular.

Historians tend to march in a lock step fashion. Presidents who advocated and supported the consolidation of central power are seen as "good." Entrepreneurs who wisely leveraged their money in a thrifty manner that led to job growth and economic expansion are "bad." It is almost a comic book world and one of the few places where characters are treated in a most simplistic fashion.

Burton W. Folsom (born, 1947) is an exception to this dangerous trend in intellectual history today. Not only does he operate from a different worldview than from most historians, Folsom fundamentally believes that the subjects of history deserve appropriate scrutiny in order to defend the integrity of the discipline.

Folsom's degrees in history are from Indiana University (B.A.), University of Nebraska (MA), and the University of Pittsburgh (PhD). He is Charles F. Kline Chair in History and Management and Professor of History at Hillsdale College and he has been affiliated with the Foundation for Economic Education and Murray State University, as well as other educational institutions and foundations.

His commitment to challenging conventional wisdom and his concern about the philosophy of freedom can be seen in his books. Folsom publisher notes that his "The Myth of the Robber Barons describes the role of key entrepreneurs in the economic growth of the United States from 1850 to 1910... Most historians argue that these men, and others like them, were Robber Barons. The story, however, is more complicated." "Folsom divides the entrepreneurs into two groups, market entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs. The market entrepreneurs, such as Hill, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller, succeeded by producing a quality product at a competitive price. The political entrepreneurs such as Edward Collins in steamships and in railroads the leaders of the Union Pacific Railroad were men who used the power of government to succeed. Interestingly, the political entrepreneurs often failed without help from government they could not produce competitive products." There are few areas that are treated with more simplicity than the so called "Robber Barons." These creatures are universally seen as "bad" by most historians. Folsom clearly proves this deserves a more serious review.

According to his publisher, Folsom's New Deal or Raw Deal "exposes the idyllic legend of Franklin D. Roosevelt as a myth of epic proportions. With questionable moral character and a vendetta against the business elite, Roosevelt created New Deal programs marked by inconsistent planning, wasteful spending, and opportunity for political gain — ultimately elevating public opinion of his administration but falling flat in achieving the economic revitalization that America so desperately needed from the Great Depression. Folsom takes a critical, revisionist look at Roosevelt's presidency, his economic policies, and his personal life." Roosevelt is consistently named among the greatest Presidents in US history. Folsom does a masterful job of challenging that perspective.

If people want to understand economic freedom, they need to understand economic history. Folsom provides a greatly needed perspective.

© Kevin Price


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Kevin Price

Kevin Price is Publisher and Editor in Chief of

His background is eclectic and includes years of experience in both business and public policy, as well as two decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He was an aide to U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) and later went on to work in policy areas with some of the nation's leading think tanks including the National Center for Public Policy Research and was part of the Heritage Foundation's Annual Guide to Public Policy Experts... (more)


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