Blog Watch: Appreciating Wendell Berry's Sabbaths
Wendell Berry, Affection, and Higher Education

Thinking about James Duke, Wendell Berry and Profit

In perceiving Duke as following in the tradition of the earlier robber barons, I have been influenced by writer Wendell Berry’s criticism of him in his 2012 Jefferson Lecture. Berry recounts how in the winter of 1907 his farming Kentucky grandparents planned to use the money they would obtain from selling their tobacco crop at auction in Louisville to pay some of their debts, but due to Duke’s American Tobacco Company monopoly on prices, his grandfather returned from Louisville “without a dime” of profit. Berry adds, “Thus began my father’s lifelong advocacy [as an eventual lawyer and farmer], later my brother’s and my own, and now my daughter’s and my son’s, for small farmers and for land-conserving economies.”

By 1907, thanks largely to Duke’s advertising and marketing efforts—in 1889 alone, he spent $800,000 on marketing—U. S. cigarette smoking began to take off, quadrupling in the last 15 years of the nineteenth century. In 1902, he joined with a British company to form the British American Tobacco.   “The Duke trust exerted an oppression that was purely economic, involving a mechanical indifference, the indifference of a grinder to what it grinds. It was not, that is to say, a political oppression. It did not intend to victimize its victims. It simply followed its single purpose of the highest possible profit, and ignored the ‘side effects.’”

via LA Progressive


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