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Jeremiah D. Lambert, author of The Power Brokers

“The Power Brokers: The Struggle to Shape and Control the Electric Power Industry,” MIT Press, 2015.

Samuel Insull, the founding architect of the nation’s electric power business, was a supremely ambitious American immigrant. As a young man Insull became Thomas Edison’s protégé. He promoted Edison’s central station electric business, and was present at the creation of General Electric—leaving to plunge into the disorderly and chaotic infant electric utility marketplace of late nineteenth century Chicago.

Insull’s imperative was consolidation and monopoly control, gained by acquiring vulnerable local competitors. “The best service at the lowest possible price,” he said, “can only be obtained … by exclusive control of a given territory being placed in the hands of one undertaking.”

Insull feared rapacious and corrupt municipal politicians, who determined rates and dispensed utility franchises. He wanted instead to deal with a single benign state agency, and called for state regulation of privately owned utility monopolies.

Regulation meant protection from competition and a reliable return on invested capital.

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