Capital Gains: Business and Politics in Twentieth-Century America

Capital Gains: Business and Politics in Twentieth-Century America

Capital Gains: Business and Politics in Twentieth-Century America

Capital Gains: Business and Politics in Twentieth-Century America


Recent events--the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and efforts to increase the minimum wage, among others--have driven a tremendous surge of interest in the political power of business. Capital Gains collects some of the most innovative new work in the field. The chapters explore the influence of business on American politics in the twentieth century at the federal, state, and municipal levels. From corporate spending on city governments in the 1920s to business support for public universities in the postwar period, and from business opposition to the Vietnam War to the corporate embrace of civil rights, the contributors reveal an often surprising portrait of the nation's economic elite.
Contrary to popular mythology, business leaders have not always been libertarian or rigidly devoted to market fundamentalism. Before, during, and after the New Deal, important parts of the business world sought instead to try to shape what the state could accomplish and to make sure that government grew in ways that were favorable to them. Appealing to historians working in the fields of business history, political history, and the history of capitalism, these essays highlight the causes, character, and consequences of business activism and underscore the centrality of business to any full understanding of the politics of the twentieth century--and today.
Contributors: Daniel Amsterdam, Brent Cebul, Jennifer Delton, Tami Friedman, Eric Hintz, Richard R. John, Pamela Walker Laird, Kim Phillips-Fein, Laura Phillips Sawyer, Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, Eric Smith, Jason Scott Smith, Mark R. Wilson.


Kim Phillips-Fein

In recent years, there has been a remarkable expansion of American historical scholarship on the political engagement, ideologies, and activism of businesspeople and business organizations. Earlier generations of scholars explored the politics of working-class people with immense care but left their business counterparts in the shadows. Now a new literature, one that has grown in tandem with the developing subfield concerned with the history of capitalism, considers the various ways that elite economic actors have sought to exert influence and power over the state.

The essays in this volume embody this new direction. Revisiting longstanding themes and debates about political ideology and the relationship between business and the state, they have been informed by the idea that economic life is embedded in political and social relationships. As a result, they sketch a political tradition in the business world that welcomed certain kinds of government activity. The businesspeople whose stories are told here were well aware that government set the terms for the economy, and they tried to influence and shape the state accordingly, not simply to minimize it. For much of the twentieth century, many businesspeople and their organizations sought to find ways to actively shape government and expand its capacities—at the local, state, and federal levels—in ways that they believed would serve their interests in both the short and the long term.

As Richard R. John suggests in his Introduction, the authors whose work is collected here build on the insights of both the Progressive school of historical interpretation that thrived in the early years of the twentieth century . . .

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