Bernard Weisberger replies: I don’t accept Mr. Bradley’s generous view of Samuel Insull. Bradley rightly notes that Insull’s control came to rest on “pyramided holding companies”—organizations that owned no productive capital but merely the stocks of other corporations, which in turn owned the stocks of still others, until somewhere down the line one finally reached companies that were actually generating and selling gas and electricity. By speculating in holding company securities, a few men, many steps removed from actual production and responsibility, could manipulate the economic fate of thousands of utilities customers and investors. Therefore, such companies were properly outlawed in the utilities business in 1935.
Sure, Insull was not solely to blame for the collapse of the 1930s, and as my article explicitly mentioned, he had some positive achievements. But for these he was amply rewarded, during most of his life, with money and flattery. There is no reason historians should not take a tougher look at the overall performance.
Mr. Bradley says that what Insull did was not “less moral” than “some of what we read about today.” Considering Wall Street’s current casinolike shenanigans, I would say, “Indeed so. Thanks for making my point.”