The United States of America: A Study of the American Commonwealth, Its Natural Resources, People, Industries, Manufactures, Commerce, and Its Work in Literature, Science, Education, and Self-Government - Vol. 2

By Nathaniel Southgate Shaler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV.
THE PLACE OF CORPORATE ACTION IN OUR CIVILIZATION.

ONE of the first lessons of civilization--one which, when well learned, goes far in aiding men to great accomplishments--is found in the art of associated action. Among the primitive races the habit of combining endeavor to secure important ends scarcely exists. The first upward steps are taken in the work of war, when men are for a time subjected to a chief; another stage is where slaves obey the will of a master, and are by him directed to some profitable employment. A yet higher step is taken when laborers are engaged for some form of hire. The principle of partnerships, where men combine their capital and their endeavors to accomplish some business undertaking, was invented in relatively modern times, and finds a place in the social system of but few peoples. So far it appears to be practically limited to the Aryan folk, and probably has its highest development among people of the English stock.

For a long time partnerships seemed to afford a sufficient means for dealing with all commercial enterprises. Until within about fifty years nearly all our economic undertakings were in the hands of men who were related to each other by such bonds. Breaks in the succession of endeavors, such as are brought about by illness or death where the individual acts alone, were overcome by constantly renewing the members of the society by taking in junior partners. In this way the life of the house could be indefinitely perpetuated. In time, however, it was found that, good as this system is for most purposes, it is not well adapted to certain conditions which have arisen from the vast increase in the volume of work required in many branches of modern business. The result has been the invention and rapid extension of a new method of association, that of the joint-stock company. In these companies, as is well known, the property is represented by shares, which may be, and indeed often are, owned by thousands of individual capitalists. The management of the work is in the hands of officers elected by the shareholders, and

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The United States of America: A Study of the American Commonwealth, Its Natural Resources, People, Industries, Manufactures, Commerce, and Its Work in Literature, Science, Education, and Self-Government - Vol. 2
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