Thursday, January 27, 2011

Debunking "Fact Checking Claims"

The article "Fact Checking Claims about the Transcontinental Railroad" by Leah Nahmias on the Now and Then American Social History Project Blog itself contains some dubious claims, which are contradicted by some of the linked information:

"The largest government subsidies in U.S. history financed the railroad boom."

A common error when discussing government financing of the Central and Union Pacific Railroads is that it is mistakenly thought to include government subsidies, forgetting that the government railroad bonds had to be and were repaid in full with interest, that according to the U.S. Supreme Court the government and the railroads shared equally in the increased value of the land grants, and that the U.S. government got a billion dollar discount on mail and other transportation costs.

"it is important to note how especially good railroads were for big business"

A strange way of saying this as the railroads were the first big businesses, and most of the 19th century stocks on the New York Stock Exchange were railroad shares.

"Especially on the Central Pacific workers faced brutal conditions, including snowstorms, rockslides and explosions that claimed the lives of hundreds, if not thousands"

That the conditions were difficult was due to the limitations of then current technology while working in the mountain frontier wilderness on the greatest engineering project of the 19th century, and was not due to management indifference or racism.

"railroad workers everywhere faced an unrelenting pace and low wages ... Chinese workers were only paid about two-thirds of the wages for white workers."

The Chinese laborers on the Central Pacific Railroad were paid about 30 dollars a month in gold, about the same as caucasian laborers, which is about $2,000 a month in today's money. They were so well paid, in fact, that they were able to save 2/3 of their income so that they would become rich by the time they returned to Canton.