James Pethokoukis for the American Enterprise Institute: I recently interviewed media entrepreneur Bhu Srinivasan about his new book Americana: A 400 Year History Of American Capitalism and asked his opinion on the most influential American entrepreneur or businessman ever. His response:

I would have to say it’s Andrew Carnegie. I would say it’s close — John D. Rockefeller is a close second — but I think it’s Andrew Carnegie. And the only reason I don’t quite give it to John D. Rockefeller is because his rise and his fortune very dramatically changed after the automobile obviously, and he was already the world’s richest man before that. So the fact that the fortune grew so dramatically after it — he was born in 1839 and he died in 1937, and so, yeah he lived a long life.
But Carnegie was so multi-dimensional. He is an immigrant in this country, first of all. He leaves Scotland when he was 13 years old, he comes to this country, and he was this educated boy, you know he was attending school in Scotland. When he comes here, he’s sent immediately to the factories in Pittsburgh and he’s there working in a boiler room. He’s 5-foot-2, 5-foot-3 on a good day, if he’s standing on very high heel loafers. And he just goes and dominates the steel industry, and he becomes the richest man in the world, at least according to JP Morgan in 1901.
He makes it out of the boiler room where he doesn’t see daylight for months on end, and ends up in the telegraph office as a messenger boy, and slowly, literally, makes his way up. And you know, you tend to think these Horatio Alger stories are really just mythologies and feel-good tales, but Horatio Alger actually wrote a story called “The Telegraph Boy” in the late 19th century, and Andrew Carnegie in many ways was the real-life telegraph boy, just rising to just incredible heights. And for me, in many ways, it’s a confirmation of both the egalitarianism of American capitalism, in many ways — it’s not for everyone obviously — and it also was an affirmation of American democracy that someone like that could come here.

New York isn't getting less unequal

Alex Armlovich for the Manhattan Institute: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio assumed office in January 2014, promising to “take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities ... [and] put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love.” As the de Blasio administration nears the end of its four-year term, income inequality in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, stood at the same level it was when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office. During the interim, income inequality has fluctuated — at one point becoming even greater than it was when de Blasio entered office — and only more recently reverted to the Bloomberg-era level. …

According to the most recent available data, household income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient — a means of gauging the relative shares of income across a population —is unchanged since the end of the Bloomberg administration in December 2013.

The Theil Index, another way to measure income inequality, shows that changes in the extent of income inequality in New York are largely explained not by public-policy interventions but by the compensation trends of one industry: finance. ...

Prohibition at the state level

C. Jarrett Dieterle for the R Street Institute: In 1877, the Virginia Legislature started taxing alcoholic spirits and, by 1886, it gave counties the ability to shutter saloons and other drinking establishments within their borders (what became known as the “local option”). On the brink of Prohibition going national, nearly 90 percent of Virginia counties had shut their drinking establishments.

Not satisfied with the local option, Prohibition fever, spurred by the Progressive and Temperance movements, quickly advanced to the state level, where in 1914 the Legislature approved a ballot referendum on statewide prohibition. State citizens voted in favor of the statewide booze ban, although the exhibit notes that African-Americans and the white working class — two constituencies who opposed the ban — were largely excluded from the vote.

While Prohibition wouldn’t become nationalized until 1920, Virginia wasted little time in commencing its crackdown on bootleggers. Nov. 1, 1916, was the official “last call” for Virginia distillers, breweries and bars. Most went out of business during the dry years, although some large companies were able to stay afloat by switching their production to beverages such as soda.

As followers of the Prohibition Era know, a black market of booze quickly sprang up, despite the government’s best enforcement efforts. As one placard at [the Library of Virginia’s “Teetotalers & Moonshiners” exhibit] described it:

"Prohibition created a thriving underground economy and culture. Those in the know used passwords and secret knocks to access ‘nip joints’ and speakeasies. Moonshiners, makers or sellers of illicit whiskey, hid their operations in remote rural landscapes. Hidden compartments in clothing, everyday items, and even cars moved alcohol from place to place."

Virginia was ground zero for this moonshining culture, as remote regions of the Blue Ridge Mountains, places like Franklin County in southwest Virginia, made for ideal bootlegging locales.