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America Before Capitalism: Historical Perspective

Society & Culture  (tags: americans, capitalism, children, corruption, culture, dishonesty, education, environment, ethics, family, freedoms, law, media, politics, rights, sadness, society, women )

- 1991 days ago -
The majority of Americans earned their living in agriculture; technologically, the horse and iron plow were standard. Commerce was mainly restricted to traders and small manufacturers.

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Kit B (276)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 12:03 pm
(Image credit for book jacket: Democracy Collaborative)

At the time of the declaration of Independence, the United States comprised a modest line of settlements along a thin shelf of land bordering the Atlantic Ocean, plus a smattering of inland farms and small community groupings. The first census in 1790 registered a total population of less than 4 million. Only five cities numbered more than ten thousand; the two largest, New York and Philadelphia, fewer than fifty thousand.

The majority of Americans earned their living in agriculture; technologically, the horse and iron plow were standard. Commerce was mainly restricted to traders and small manufacturers. Neither men without significant property, nor women, nor slaves could vote. For them - a large majority of the population - there was no democracy. Government constituted a tiny percentage of the small postcolonial economy; federal spending had reached only a little over $7.5 million by 1795.

By the year 2000 dramatic shifts in geographic scale and population had transformed the postcolonial settlements into a continental nation of over 280 million - more than seventy times the population at the time of the Declaration. Nearly 65 percent of Americans now lived in metropolitan areas of more than a million; with over a third (35 percent) living in areas of more than 2.5 million.

Revolutionary changes had relegated the once dominant independent farmer and individual entrepreneur to the secondary margins of economic life. The large for-profit limited liability corporation had been elevated to a central role in ongoing American life, radically different from anything ever envisioned by classical free-market theory (the most important text of which, by Adam Smith, had just begun to circulate shortly after the Revolution).

Transformative changes in technology had taken the nation from the horse and buggy to the steam locomotive to the automobile and on to manned flight and the jet airplane - to say nothing of penicillin, antibiotics, and DNA, on the one hand, and the development of computers and the Internet, on the other. The average person could now earn approximately seventeen times what his or her counterpart in the late eighteenth century could with roughly the same expenditure of time and energy.

Evolutionary changes in public institutional structure had transformed government from a tiny force to almost 40 percent of direct activity in the modern economy - plus a vast array of regulations, loans, loan guarantees, tax provisions and related incentives, and other indirect activities. At the same time, extraordinary changes in culture forced the elimination of slavery and much (though hardly all) racial discrimination - and ended many (though hardly all) obstacles to women's equal participation in virtually every institution of modern society.

It would be surprising if the coming era did not experience large-order transformative shifts at least as great as these. Indeed, given that technological change is now extraordinarily rapid (there are more scientists alive today than in all of previous human history) - and given that the constitutional structure of the nation was scripted in the time of the horse and the plow - it would be even more surprising if far greater changes than had ever previously occurred were not to dominate the coming stages of American development.

By Gar Alperovitz (author) | Truthout |

This is the twenty-second installment of an exclusive Truthout series from political economist and author Gar Alperovitz. We are publishing weekly installments of the new edition of America Beyond Capitalism, a visionary book first published in 2005 whose time has come. Donate to Truthout and receive a free copy.

Go to VISIT SITE and read all chapters to date from Truthout - I have posted many but, some of you may have missed them or wish to read them in context.

Roseann d (178)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 12:57 pm
Thanks Kit! Yes, Corpor-gov or Goverations, have gotten mighty disgusting in their exploitation and over-reach. And you always here the lie...America is a Capiitalist our own peril At this rate we will see CapitalISM has the potential to be the worst ISM of them all. These craven cretins will do anything to fulfill their greed and love of money and power.

Yvonne White (229)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 8:52 pm
Sorry, but "America Before Capitalism" could Only refer to Pre-Columbian America...Everyone who came here after Columbus "discovered" it came to exploit its richs! Not that that is all bad, it's just a fact. My German ancestors came in 1709 or 1710, to escape wars & to provide tar pitch to the English Navy. Tar pitch didn't feed their families, farming did - so Emperial England exploited both immigrants & American resources for Its Profit. $hit happens, but it Doesn't have to keep happening!!!!

Yvonne White (229)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 9:02 pm
This is off-topic (depending on how you look at it), but in Colonial New York a group of German women beat a Sheriff sent out to stop a protest (they were not getting their rations while their men were off in Canada fighting) - the "law man" was sent back to Albany on a stretcher.. I thought that was hilarious. It came to mind when I saw online that a bunch of Indian women had stripped & beat an Indian politician who had been accused of rape. Maybe women just need to start forming vigilant gangs to straighten out these pigs??;)

Kit B (276)
Tuesday January 8, 2013, 9:14 pm

Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.
Sun Tzu

“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” - Confucius

Orville C. (0)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 7:57 am
Nyack, I completely agree. What are people like that thinking? Do they not have a clue to how things work? They really need to take off their Rose colored glasses and get out their hole once in a while. Evryone wants at least "just enough" some want more. The ones who want "more" are the ones who drive this country and the economy. If I want more, I work harder to buy more. If I don't, I wouldn't stand in anyone else's way who did.

Nancy M (169)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 8:25 am
Capitalism itself isn't necessarily awful. It is our American Corporatism version that is horrible.


Gloria p (304)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 8:53 am
I also thought the title was "American BEFORE Capitalism." It is not that. It's American Beyond Capitalism. It's about the future not the past. Maybe that's why our country isn't up to standard today. We don't read well anymore.

Kit B (276)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 9:36 am

The title of the book is "American Beyond Capitalism" the title of this summary of this chapter is "America Before Capitalism" This chapter is about the changes in thinking toward capitalism and the direct changes to our economy with the advent of technology.

Kit B (276)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 11:53 am

I believe the author is well aware of the mass production of the "plow share" and is addressing this article to the changes in corporatism over the years. In this summary of one chapter the issue becomes not how we once addressed capitalism and how we now, in this technological society, see capitalism not just mass producing an item but moving in to take over and block all competition.

This is but one summary of one chapter of a very good book.

Kit B (276)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 4:12 pm

Yes. Corporations have been allowed to grow without any form of regulation for years now. I would say that if one were a careful historian that could include the years primarily after WWII. Though this is not the full text of this chapter it is a summary and the book itself is well worth the read. Capitalism as seen by Adam Smith has no reflection in today's world and I think the author is hopeful that we can draw that conclusion.

Past Member (0)
Sunday January 13, 2013, 5:32 pm
I really don't like the redefinition of the term capitalism. If you are going to reform the system, what are you going to replace it with, socialism? I don't think so. Better to call it corporatism. It makes me think that those people who give capitalism a bad name, are actually revolutionary socialists, of the worst kind.
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