Economic Forces in American History

Economic Forces in American History

Economic Forces in American History

Economic Forces in American History

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to extract from the experience of the people of the United States some of those meanings which are commonly called economic. There is no such sharp division in the experience itself: people and events cannot be classified as exclusively economic, political, or psychological. An economic history therefore is merely a history in which emphasis is laid on the pattern according to which men have made their livings or sought wealth.

To understand the complex institutions which exist today and the problems with which the American people will struggle tomorrow it is necessary to know something about how the institutions developed and about how similar problems were confronted in the past. This narrative of former events is in large part designed to cast light on the American economy of the present. And for students it can help to round out courses in economic principles.

It should occasion no surprise that the sections of the book devoted to the recent half-century occupy more space than those devoted to all that preceded it. In part this springs from the endeavor of the author to illuminate the current scene, and in part it arises from the steadily increasing complexity of the economic process, so that more explanation is required for recent years. Too, for the Twentieth Century, an immense volume of factual material is available of a sort that is lacking for earlier periods, making fuller treatment possible as well as desirable. Further, the earlier history has been told more often, more fully, and better than that since 1900.

The problem of the writer of history is somewhat like that of the composer of a classical symphony, who not only announces themes and develops them, but interweaves them into a single polyphonic structure. The outline chosen here selects from the intricate fabric of events major strands of economic development, like trade, agriculture, money, technology, industry. Each of these is by itself followed through a long period. This treatment alone, however, leaves aside the interaction of economic and other events through time; that is suggested by other methods.

In the early years there is little disparity between chronology and the appearance of important economic themes. At the beginning the country . . .

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