This commentary originally appeared in Investor's Business Daily on September 26, 2014.
It's been said that every time there's an earthquake, that's just Henry Ford turning in his grave as his heirs misspend more of his fortune.
But nothing the Ford Foundation has done to undermine the free enterprise system that makes such wealth possible in the first place compares with the remarkable announcement last week by a Rockefeller family foundation that it is divesting investments in fossil fuel.
It was an entirely symbolic gesture, but also a stunning repudiation of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, which by the end of the 19th century was the most profitable company in the world.
"There is a moral imperative to preserve a healthy planet," blathered Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, the oil magnate's great-granddaughter and a trustee of the Rockefeller Bros. Fund.
Hardly Plugged In
Has she the slightest clue that for the past century the fossil fuel that she thinks is evil has done more to alleviate poverty, hunger, disease and human suffering across the globe than all the do-good government programs and family foundation initiatives in history?
The strange explanation for this betrayal of the Rockefeller legacy was provided by one of the foundation's administrators. "We are quite convinced," Stephen Heintz said with great certainty, "that if (John D. Rockefeller, 1839-1937) were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy."
We're not making this up.
Maybe these sanctimonious defenders of the planet think that oil and gas are so satanic that the world would be better off if their great-grandfather had never lived, never pumped a barrel of oil, never helped give light to the 20th century. Perhaps they believe that since his financial empire spawned Exxon, Chevron and Mobil, he is one of the greatest enemies of the planet.
What a supreme act of disloyalty and ignorance! By many historical accounts, John D. Rockefeller was far from a saint. He could be a ruthless businessman and was accused of being a monopolist. But usually a family foundation exists in part to preserve and celebrate the positive contributions of its benefactor. The Rockefeller Foundation now exists to renounce the legacy of its iconic patron.
What's next? The Ford Foundation rejecting carbon-emitting cars and trucks (if it hasn't already)? The Carnegie Foundation repudiating steel and the smokestacks its manufacture entail? Will the Gates Foundation start to rage against computers because they need to be — heaven forfend! — powered up?
Good luck making that work with windmills.
It's a tragic truism of American politics that billion-dollar family foundations move further and further left over time and with each passing generation. Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller and scores of other foundations that were built on the wealth of the entrepreneurs who helped build, finance, feed and power America are captured by trust fund descendants and intellectual do-gooders.
The second and third generations are too often contemptuous of capitalism — though many wouldn't know how to run a gas station.
Yet by birthright they're empowered to pass out hundreds of millions of dollars of granddaddy's money. Many no doubt believe the pernicious fable that the men who built this nation were disreputable robber barons and the family fortunes are byproducts of ill-begotten gains.
Do the stewards of the Rockefeller fortune seriously believe if John D. were alive today he'd be investing in windmills? We'll never know for sure, but we do know that Rockefeller was a world-class entrepreneur in business to make money, not lose it. His great insight was that oil and gas were far superior forms of energy for an industrial economy than twirling turbines.
The Rockefeller Fund says one of its primary missions is to help poor people worldwide escape poverty and deprivation. But the green agenda the foundation has embraced will only lower living standards of those at the bottom.
One of the most vital anti-poverty imperatives around the globe is to ensure that the world's poor have affordable electric power so they have access to food, clean water, heat, medicine and light. The green agenda makes electric power much more expensive — wind and solar power are two to three times costlier than conventional energy — and thus act as a regressive tax on the world's poor.
The Rockefeller heirs themselves won't be affected much if they have to pay more to light their mansions and fuel their Mercedes. But the poor in America and around the world can't afford such a luxury so they too can feel good about themselves.
If climate change needs to be combated, the solutions will come through technological innovation, not from government mandates and certainly not from slowing down growth and progress.
The Real Foundation
The greatest contribution to humankind from the captains of industry whose shoulders we stand on today were the industries they built and the affordable products they provided to the masses. This towers in importance over the money they and their too-often-confused and even clueless descendants give away.
"There is something ironic about having all this wealth that was created in the oil industry now being used to move to a different energy future," concedes Heintz, the foundation administrator. Ironic. Foolish. Self-righteous. Pick your adjective. But something tells us that John D. Rockefeller is rolling over in his grave right now.
• Moore is chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, a member of the IBD Brain Trust and co-author of "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States."
• Hartnett-White is a senior fellow in residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.