Economic Law and Economic Growth: Antitrust, Regulation, and the American Growth System

By George E. Garvey; Gerald J. Garvey | Go to book overview
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1
ANTEBELLUM AMERICA: EMERGENCE OF THE GROWTH SYSTEM

A reporter once asked President Franklin Roosevelt what one book he would most like every citizen of the Soviet Union to be able to read. The President is said to have replied: "The Sears, Roebuck catalogue."1 Roosevelt's answer underscored the persistent American commitment to the value of economic welfare. "Land of opportunity" has always had a strongly economic connotation. It was probably the prospect of a high material standard of living, as much as the promise of political freedom, that attracted most immigrants to the New World.

Americans have traditionally seen themselves as a people of plenty.2 With an expanding economic pie, one individual's gain did not necessarily have to come at another's expense. In the context of a bountiful continent, hard work helped make a self-fulfilling prophesy of the promise of abundance. It made the division of the social product between winners and losers seem less stark, less final. Everyone could be a winner, or at least could look forward to an increased slice of the pie--if not immediately, then for the children and grandchildren later on.

Economic growth could also provide the basis for "higher"--cultural, moral-- attainments. Thus, in his seminal Law and the Conditions of Freedom ( 1956), James Willard Hurst emphasized the New World commitment to growth not just for its own sake, but also because Americans believed that material prosperity could best secure nonmaterial fulfillments as well. "Some envisioned," Hurst wrote, "an enlarged, more self-respecting and creative life for great numbers of people, a higher ethic to be built paradoxically on material foundations."3

The commitment to growth was to be shaped by Americans' habitual reliance on legal process. The moderating effects of the legal process have long been

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