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Standard Oil: A Centennial Evaluation (Part IV: A free market, not political company)

By Eric Lowe -- May 20, 2011

[Ed. note: This post is taken from Robert Bradley’s conclusion in chapter 18 of Oil, Gas and Government: The U.S. Experience. In this series, Part I summarized the manifold contributions of John D. Rockefeller to a fledgling, powerhouse industry; Part II critically interpreted rebates and other ‘unfair’ practices of Rockefeller’s Trust; and Part III critically reviewed other complaints about unfair practices against Standard Oil.]

The Standard Oil Trust of John D. Rockefeller qualifies as a free market company, not a political one. The major mistake of Standard Oil in its distinguished history was not a failing of economic performance. It was underestimating the need to present information to explain to the public and critics the virtues of integration and scale economies, particularly in petroleum. (This was an intellectual problem of critics too–see the Appendix below.)