REVIEWS

BOOKS

That unique breed, The Great Big New Rich, are a long sea-mile from the outmoded go-getters of Horatio Alger

PHILIP BOOKS August 1 1969
REVIEWS

BOOKS

That unique breed, The Great Big New Rich, are a long sea-mile from the outmoded go-getters of Horatio Alger

PHILIP BOOKS August 1 1969

BOOKS

That unique breed, The Great Big New Rich, are a long sea-mile from the outmoded go-getters of Horatio Alger

PHILIP BOOKS

DANIEL KEITH LUDWIG has the appearance of an aging commuter and that, among other things, is what he is. The neighbors in Darien, Connecticut, occasionally spot him in shirt sleeves and suspenders, poking around his lawn, noticeably irritated by the crabgrass. He works a long day and is not known to engage in backyard shoptalk about his tanker fleet, which exceeds in tonnage the combined wartime shipping of Germany, Italy and Japan, or to brag about his earning capacity, which equals that of 100,000 skilled workers.

The morning train carries Ludwig to the office of National Bulk Carriers at 360 Lexington Avenue in New York. There he directs a $1 billion fortune and the tankers that carry a considerable portion of the global trade in oil; they are certainly the largest and probably the least luxurious tankers in the world. When he learned that rival Aristotle Onassis had ordered grand pianos for the officers’ quarters of his supertankers, Ludwig’s answer was direct and characteristic: “You can’t carry oil in grand pianos.”

Ludwig reveals his credo with the same economy of speech: “I’m in this business because I like it. I have no hobbies.” It is almost a Horatio Alger line for a Horatio Alger story — the grade-school dropout from the broken home, single - mindedly deploying a “sensitivity to the profitable deal,” outpacing the 100,000 mere millionaires who today comprise North America’s lesser rich and bursting through, in the words of author Kenneth Lamott of The Moneymakers, as “the greatest of the Great Big New Rich of the postwar era.”

Almost but not quite an Alger story, for these are not Alger times. And the underlying interest of The Moneymakers is that of a study of our times. Intrinsically, the book is a sketchy profile of the making of a baker’s dozen of recent fortunes ranging from $100 million and up into the billions; Lamott labels his subjects The Big New Rich to distinguish them from the inheritors of wealth. Some you know: Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, oracle of the crackpot Right, Howard Hughes, landlord of Las Vegas. Others are as obscure as Ludwig.

The spirit of Alger lives mainly in their rhetoric. They burgeoned as private enterprise was shrinking from an economic system into an American theology. They came long after Rockefeller, Dupont, Mellon and Ford, the great industrial dynasties born out of a competitive capitalism. They came before General Motors, Boeing and the swollen defense department, the contemporary big bureaucracies.

The New Rich began, like the first Rockefeller, as competitive entrepreneurs. But like the modern private bureaucracies, they flourished on political lobbying, risk-free government contracts, mergers, depletion allowances and a tax structure conveniently and permanently tilted toward a corporate jackpot. Their role was transitional. Ludwig, says Lamott, is “the last of the great entrepreneurs.”

Ludwig’s early days were Alger-ian indeed. He bought a ramshackle sidewheel excursion steamer on credit, sold its boilers, converted it into a barge and chartered it to a molasses tycoon. He hustled, scrounged, operated ancient cargo vessels on charters to oil companies. The big chance came with Hitler’s war: Ludwig laid the keels of his postwar fleet on government shipbuilding orders.

Responding to the “catastrophe theory of wealth,” all the New Rich seized the opportunities for wartime expansion and laid the first blocks of that formidable structure we call today the military-industrial complex. (The catastrophe response was described most felicitously by oilman Jean Paul Getty in 1941: “I resolved to do my best to be worthy of Mama and to help my country crush its enemies to the last ounce of my strength.”)

Ludwig steamed out of the war with the world’s fifth-largest tanker fleet, soon to be Number One. Today that fleet (largely Liberian-registered) services a complex of Ludwig companies in every continent. He is in salt, ranching, aviation, real estate, coal, insurance, potash, iron, loans and oranges.

Many of Lamott’s New Rich have aspects of Ludwig — all are white and American born, most are unchurchy Protestants of north-European descent. But the important bond is age: Ludwig is in his 70s and the others are of his generation. If a new Ludwig

appeared today, he would be corporately swallowed in the infancy of enterprise.

Lamott’s book coincides with the paperback publication of the 1968 best seller The Rich and the Super-Rich by Professor Ferdinand Lundberg. Its voluminously documented and cantankerously argued thesis is that the significant fortunes remain with the Great Old Rockefeller Rich, carefully diffused by inheritance but still under dynastic control.

Lundberg sees the old rich families painlessly and profitably transferring their economic mastery to today’s military-corporate managers. Now corporate leaders are an elite of financial politicians (finpols). They protect and improve investments through collaboration with and pressure upon government leaders (pubpols) and military policymakers (milpols). It is a chilling analysis of the corporate society. If you scan Lamott for entertainment, you should read Lundberg with an eye to self-preservation.

CORRECTION: Plain-living Daniel Ludwig is not strictly accurate when he says, “I have no hobbies.” He has the three-decker yacht Danginn (275 feet 5 inches). She is named after Daniel and Ginger Ludwig. And registered in Monrovia.

The Moneymakers by Kenneth Lamott

(Little, Brown; $8).

The Rich and the Super-Rich by Ferdinand Lundberg (Bantam, $1.95).

YOU SHOULD READ . . .

ROBERT KENNEDY: A Memoir by Jack Newfield; Clarke, Irwin; $8.50. New Left writer Jack Newfield and Bobby Kennedy last talked on an airplane, just before the fatal climax of that campaign in California. “His face looked like an old man’s ... He was so tired, I couldn’t read his mood.” And often Newfield saw Kennedy’s interior life taking over; he came to believe that Bobby was “running for President in public, and looking for himself in private.” Newfield, an unreserved partisan, saw Bobby as “the Kennedy with soul.” What gives credence to the belief is the intimacy of the portraiture, built on the unassailable minutae of shared experience.