Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XLVI
SUMMARY AND SOME CONCLUSIONS

Introduction. Having reached the close of our general survey of the economic history of the United States, we can now profitably look back over that record as a whole and, unconcerned with the details that have occupied our attention when dealing with the various special fields of economic activity, endeavor to secure a summary picture of the general outcome as far as the growth of wealth and income is concerned. Also, we are now in a better position to look back over that development with the purpose of formulating a summary analysis of the main factors contributing to the results achieved and so to secure a clearer view of the forces that have dominated our economic development. Finally, by surveying this past experience to learn the most common causes for mistakes and failures in the efforts at social guidance, we can attempt to formulate a few of the most important conclusions that should prove of value as a guide in our endeavor to secure a better social control of our economic development in the future.

The Growth of the National Wealth. The available figures on national wealth are far from satisfactory, especially those for any period before the latter part of the nineteenth century, and can be considered only as providing a very rough approximation to the facts. The census has estimated the total in 1790 at $552 million in the money of that time. By 1860 the total, including slaves but excluding nontaxable property, was just over $16 billion which would be equal to $39 billion in 1926 dollars. Using the 1926 dollar equivalent to avoid the distortion due to changes in the price level, the total, including nontaxable property, rose to $192 billion in 1900 and to $347 billion in 1922, the last year for which the census has made a report. A recent estimate places the figure for 1937 at $322 billion in current dollars, or $342 billion in 1926 dollars.

This tremendous growth in the total national wealth is particularly significant for its bearing on national security since it has made the country by far the richest nation on earth. Even before the first World War the national wealth was estimated as almost equal to that of England, Germany, and France combined. In an age when control of wealth has become a more important factor than ever in the conflict of nations this development has greatly enhanced our political power and prestige.

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