chapter  4
21 Pages

The Triumph of Liberal Industrial Capitalism

The key development in this history is the rise of what might be called concentrated, corporate capitalism, an economic form whose impact was first felt in a major way in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth. American politics and public policy since that time may usefully be understood as a response to this momentous development; the era of Progressive reform and the New Deal are especially notable in this respect, and each will be analyzed in depth. Before turning to that story and to that of the


mise between the two groups of large-scale property owners who were then economically dominant in the United States: landowners whose wealth was based on a commercially oriented slave system (that is to say, a slave system that produced commodities for the world market, mainly tobacco, rice, indigo, and some cotton1) and merchants whose wealth was based on trade, land promotion, and banking. Despite their differences on many issues, these groups agreed that union, order, and a sound currency were much preferable to anarchy, easy money, and the assorted threats of an impassioned and irresponsible majority. It is interesting to note, given the nearly universal property qualifications for voting and office-holding, that the majority about which large-scale property holders worried was mostly composed of debt-ridden small property owners (farmers, artisans, and shopkeepers), who were increasingly turning to state government to redress their grievances in the period immediately following the Revolutionary War. 2 Large property holders decided to seek constitutional reform mainly to protect their economic interests against the demands of the majority of small property owners and against the mounting discontent of the vast reservoir of the disfranchised. 3 The Constitution, in this interpretation, was an articulation of the interests and needs of dominant economic groups, and while I will not rehearse the entire story of its adoption, I will describe it in broad brushstrokes.