The New Colossus. (Economics, Labor & Business)

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The New Colossus. (Economics, Labor & Business)


"Beyond Markets and Hierarchies: Toward a New Synthesis of American Business History" by Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Daniel M.G. Raff, and Peter Temin, in American Historical Review (Apr. 2003), 914 Atwater, Bloomington, Ind. 47401.

In The Visible Hand (1977) and other influential works, Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., established what has been for a quarter-century the dominant approach to American business history. Chandler argued that America's economic success in the 20th century was due to the rise of huge, vertically integrated, hierarchically managed enterprises in steel, automaking, and other important industries. Instead of relying on the market to obtain raw materials and to sell their products, the Ford Motor Company and other large firms took on the supply and marketing functions themselves--and management's "visible hand" proved more efficient than the market's invisible one.

Chandler's view prevailed even as the behemoth firms he celebrated were running into grave difficulties in the late 20th century. Now, Lamoreaux, Raff, and Temin, economic historians affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research, offer an updated view of business history.

Chandler "provided a compelling alternative to the [then-common] robber-baron view of big business," say the authors. But by the 1980s, "classic Chandlerian firms frequently were being outperformed, even in their core businesses, by more specialized, vertically disintegrated rivals," such as Toyota. …

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