I've known for some time that America's early industrialists were not "robber barons" but brilliant entrepreneurs and noble philanthropists. For example, John D. Rockefeller created the mass market for kerosene home lighting by driving down prices, and he gave back to society by funding hugely successful efforts in education and medical research.
I was pleased to see that Burton W. Folsom, Jr. provides a nice framework for understanding the early industrialists in his book The Myth of the Robber Barons. Folsom sorts them into two groups: the political entrepreneurs and the market entrepreneurs.
The political entrepreneurs were people like Robert Fulton (steamships) and Thomas C. Durant (railroads). Their reliance on government assistance led to high prices, technological stagnation, and corruption. Market entrepreneurs such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and James J. Hill were innovators who drove down prices and improved service.
I have seen both types of entrepreneurs throughout my career. Today, the political entrepreneurs (better known as "crony capitalists" on the right and "socially responsible entrepreneurs" on the left) are clearly on the ascent. Legitimate entrepreneurs don't need to add "socially responsible" to their job descriptions because they already provide products and services that people want and value. "Socially responsible" is simply another way of saying "political" and it means seeking public money distributed by government officials--often to people with the right connections.
It's sad to see our country repeating this mistake. Our education system, media, and political elite share the blame. The way to turn things around is to once again honor individual initiative and achievement, the source of most generous and effective giving.