Capitalizing on Change: A Social History of American Business

Capitalizing on Change: A Social History of American Business

Capitalizing on Change: A Social History of American Business

Capitalizing on Change: A Social History of American Business


Americans love "this year's model," relying on the "new" to be always "improved." Enthusiasm for the new, says Stanley Buder, is essential to American business, where innovation and change stoke the engines of economic energy. To really understand the history of business in America, he argues, we must understand the intertwining dynamics of social and business values.

In a history spanning over three hundred years, Buder examines the enveloping expansion of the market economy, the laggardly use of government to modify or control market forces, the rise of consumerism, the shifting role of small business, and much more. He concludes with the explosive development of business in the 1990s and its aftermath of crises and scandal. Along the way, he analyzes the ways American social values foster an entrepreneurial ethos and why the identification of change with progress provides a distinctive and provocative theme in American life.

Buder studies American business as not only an engine of wealth accumulation but also an important generator and reflector of American values. Capitalizing on Change is the first full-length business history in recent years to make this relationship clear.


In designing a government for “the People of the United States,” the Founding Fathers had as their concern the prosperity of an economy resting on land, labor, and commerce. Nevertheless, they included a clause with far-reaching and ongoing consequences: “To promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Rights to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” An enduring connection had been struck in the new nation between inventiveness and profit, intellectual curiosity and individual gain. As the economist Joseph Schumpeter predicted, “Without innovation, no entrepreneurs, without entrepreneurial achievement, no capitalist returns and no capitalist propulsion.”

Largely due to this “propulsion,” we enter the twenty-first century with an information technology revolution under way whose implications for business activity are impossible to foresee, as those in its vanguard explore artificial intelligence, machines capable of human-like thought. Biotech developments and the human genome project promise to alter our very sense of disease and life expectancy, not to speak of the food we eat.

Capitalizing on change is America’s genius. New types of business and new ways of doing business are springing up, offering an explosion of opportunities in these and other novel fields. Scholars describe a postindustrial society in which services and information have supplanted industry and goods as the basis of the American economy and speculate on whether new forms of flexible and transitory business organization may become the dominant business model. Technology, however, has also created immediate problems related to outsourcing, global warming, and the need to find ways of assuring energy independence, as well as problems of a more abstract nature such as the ethical issues involved in genetic engineering.

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