Mine Were of Trouble by Peter Kemp

From my Notion Template

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. A somewhat erratic memoir of a Nationalist volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. It doubles as something of a war travelogue, and has the general air of a tourist on a very gripping vacation trip, with grenades, death and maiming. It was seemingly written before they invented trauma in literature, or at least written by an author not able to write it.

How I Discovered It

The Amazon Algorithm.

Who Should Read It?

Anyone who enjoyed Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger – it’s not as good and could have used an editor, but good nonetheless.

How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

I’m not sure I was changed in any way, but seeing the very, very wide range of human experience is always interesting – particularly how Kemp could just turn the war on an off (rational, since he was a tourist/volunteer) whereas the Spanish on either side could not

My Top 3 Quotes

  • The details of his flight had been arranged in London by a certain Major Hugh Pollard, one of those romantic Englishmen who specialize in other countries’ revolutions.
  • Father Vicente, in great spirits, dominated the gathering. He was the most fearless and the most bloodthirsty man I ever met in Spain; he would, I think, have made a better soldier than priest.
  • The motto of the Legion was ‘Viva la muerte!’

Summary + Notes

Of course, if I had been willing to join the International Brigade and fight for the Republicans it would have been simple; in every country there were organizations, ably directed by the various Communist parties, for that very purpose. But

Certainly the execution of prisoners was one of the ugliest aspects of the Civil War, and both sides were guilty of it in the early months. There were two main reasons for this: first, the belief, firmly held by each side, that the others were traitors to their country and enemies of humanity who fully deserved death; secondly, the fear of each side that unless they exterminated their adversaries these would rise again and destroy them.

Resolved to be the first to welcome the victorious army, he and a Spanish friend of a similar temperament, Ricardo González, of the famous sherry family, loaded his aircraft with crates of sherry and brandy, took off from San Sebastian and soon afterwards landed on the airfield at Santander. A swarm of blue-clad soldiers surrounded the aircraft and Bellville and González climbed out with glad shouts of ‘Viva Franco!’ and ‘Arriba España!’ when they realized with astonishment and dismay that these were Republican militiamen and that Santander was still in enemy hands. They were brusquely marched to prison, transferred to Gijón, in Asturias, just before the fall of Santander and for a week or two were in grave danger of summary execution.

The details of his flight had been arranged in London by a certain Major Hugh Pollard, one of those romantic Englishmen who specialize in other countries’ revolutions.

The Nationalists started with the great advantage that the most important of the fighting Services, the Army, was on their side.

Their difficulty was that the crews, having murdered their officers, were unable to sail or fight the ships effectively until, later on, they were trained and officered by Russians.

So perished in the first few months of the war the finest flower of Spain.

Less wisely, they opened the prisons. These, as Señor de Madariaga points out,9 had been emptied months earlier of their political prisoners by an amnesty of President Azaña, and so could disgorge only common criminals. The latter were immediately enrolled in the various militias, and were responsible for much of the violence and horror that disgraced Republican Spain in the early months of the war.

Apart from Andalusia, where the Anarchist tradition was strong among the peasantry, it is reasonable to say that the agricultural districts were for the Nationalists, the cities and industrial areas were for the Republicans. Thus,

The Russians did for the Republicans roughly what the Germans did for the Nationalists—they supplied technicians and war material of all kinds. In return they exacted a far greater measure of control over Republican policy and strategy than the Germans were able to obtain from Franco; the price of Russian co-operation was Russian direction of the war and the complete domination by the Communist Party of all Republican political and military organizations.14

On many occasions during those early days it was the courage and initiative of individual commanders that turned the scale for the Nationalists. At the end of the war, when I was in Madrid, I heard the comment of an Englishman who had witnessed both the Russian and Spanish revolutions: ‘If Franco’s generals hadn’t had more guts than the White Russian generals, Spain would now be Communist.’

Their job was not made easy for them by the attitude of the military, which seemed to be that all foreign correspondents were spies who must be kept as far as possible from the scene of operations, who were only in the country on sufferance and who ought to be more than satisfied with whatever news the Army cared to issue in the official communiques. This was in marked contrast to the attitude of the Republicans, whose Press and Propaganda services were far superior to those of the Nationalists as their fighting was inferior and who took pains to give journalists and writers all the facilities they required. Although both sides imposed a rigid censorship on all dispatches going out of the country, the Nationalist made virtually no concessions to the Press, while the Republicans laid out enormous sums on propaganda abroad. These factors account in a large measure for the poor Press which the Nationalist received—and of which they ceaselessly complained—in England and the United States.

to look at the ruins of the Alcázar. There was nothing but a vast pile of rubble; the cellars, even the foundations, lay bare, with twisted iron girders sticking through the broken masonry and a great pit in the middle where the Republicans had exploded a mine. From the débris rose a foul stench of ordure and decay. The houses all around the square were pocketed with bullet holes, their windows shattered. A young Carlist from Galicia told us: ‘We are going to leave it like that as a monument to Marxist civilization.’ In fact, no attempt has been made to rebuild the Alcázar, and when I revisited it in the spring of 1951 it looked, and smelt, exactly the same.

It was early when we went to bed but late before I found my sleep. This was due partly to the thoughts racing through my mind, partly to the strangeness of my bed but chiefly to the thunderous sounds punctuating the stillness as my companions broke wind throughout the night.

The day after my arrival two troopers reported for duty incapably drunk; apparently they were old offenders. The following evening Llancia formed the whole Squadron in a hollow square in the main barrack-room. Calling out the two defaulters in front of us he shouted, ‘There has been enough drunkenness in this Squadron. I will have no more of it, as you are going to see.’ Thereupon he drove his fist into the face of one of them, knocking out most of his front teeth and sending him spinning across the room to crash through two ranks of men and collapse on the floor. Turning on the other he beat him across the face with a riding crop until the man dropped half senseless to the ground. He returned to his first victim, yanked him to his feet and laid open his face with the crop, disregarding his screams until he fell inert beside his companion. Then he turned to us: ‘You have seen, I will not tolerate a single drunkard in this Squadron.’ The two culprits were hauled, sobbing, to their feet to have half a bottle of castor oil forced down their throats. They were on duty next day, but I never saw either of them drunk again.

As we came over the crest San Merano gave the order, ‘Charge!’ Spurring our horses, we swept downhill in a cheering line, leaning forward on our horses’ necks, our sabres pointed. In a moment of mad exhilaration I fancied myself one of Subatai’s Tartars or Tamerlane’s bahadurs. Whoever, I exulted, said the days of cavalry were past? Preoccupied with these thoughts and with my efforts to keep station I never thought of looking at our target; nor, it seemed, did anyone else. For the next thing I knew we were in the middle of a bleating, panic-stricken, heard of goats, in the charge of three terrified herdsmen.

The enemy were evidently respecting the hour of the siesta for everything was quiet when we arrived. The

Father Vicente, in great spirits, dominated the gathering. He was the most fearless and the most bloodthirsty man I ever met in Spain; he would, I think, have made a better soldier than priest.

At first they made no progress against our fire. Many fell; some lay down where they were and fired back at us, others turned and ran in all directions, looking for cover, not realizing that this was the most certain way of being killed.

Parties with more divergent political views than the Requetés and the Falange could scarcely be imagined. Writing of ‘this magnificent Harlequin’, Señor de Madariaga says it was ‘as if the President of the United States organized the Republican-Democratic-Socialist-Communist-League-of-the-Daughters-of-the-American-Revolution, in the hopes of unifying American politics’. Either the Falange or the Requetés would have to dominate; the skill at intrigue of the former, and the political ineptitude of the latter made the outcome certain; the Requetés ceased to exert any serious influence on Spanish politics.

A former Chief of Police of the Irish Free State, General O’Duffy launched into Irish politics in the 1930’s, forming his own United Party, or ‘Blueshirts’. Seeing in the Spanish Civil War a chance to increase his prestige in Ireland, he raised a ‘Brigade’ of his countrymen to fight for the Nationalists. The ‘Brigade’ was in fact equal in strength to a battalion, but O’Duffy was granted the honorary rank of General in the Spanish Army.

Like some other Irishmen and some Americans—happily a minority—whose minds cherish the memory of past enmity he had a pathological hatred of the English, which he never tried to conceal. To his men he was known as ‘General O’Scruffy’ or ‘Old John Bollocks’.

It seems to me that nothing illustrates better the superiority of Republican propaganda over Nationalist than the Republican story about Guernica was given immediate and world-wide publicity, and is still generally believed; whereas the Nationalist case scarcely received a hearing.

At a smaller table nearby sat the newspaper correspondents, among them Randolph Churchill, Pembroke Stevens, Reynolds Packard and his wife and Philby of The Times; Churchill’s clear, vigorous voice could be heard deploring with well-turned phrase and varied vocabulary the inefficiency of the service, the quality of the food and, above all, the proximity of the Germans, at whom he would direct venomous glances throughout the meal. ‘Surely,’ he exclaimed loudly, ‘there must be one Jew in Germany with enough guts to shoot that bastard Hitler!’

He was greatly relieved when I assured him that I was not a Freemason; he had been convinced that all Protestants were Masons—a belief shared by most of the other officers. It was a waste of time trying to explain to Spaniards that English Freemasonry was a different thing from the Continental variety, which they abhorred because of its connection with the Popular Front governments in France and Spain. My friend FitzPatrick told me that what eventually finished his career in the Legion was his admission, in the course of an argument, that he was a Mason.

Another officer, Alférez Colomer, a Catalan from Gerona, was about the same age as myself. He was a noisy, rancorous little man, for ever bickering with his brother-officers and bullying his men. He had been badly wounded in an earlier battle, which had perhaps affected his temper; but he always seemed to me to have a chip on his shoulder. His contentious nature was, literally, the death of him: one day, after I had left the Bandera, he became very drunk after a battle, and challenged another officer to a stupid competition to see which of them could pick up more of the unexploded hand-grenades lying in front of their trenches. Colomer picked up one too many; it blew his head off.

He was just as severe on matters not strictly military but reflecting indirectly on the health and efficiency of the cadet. A model of rectitude in his own private life, he was also well aware of the temptations to which young men so easily succumb in a city. He therefore made it an order that every cadet, when walking out in the evening, must carry in his pocket at least one contraceptive. He would frequently stop cadets in the street and demand that they show him this armour; heavy was the penalty for him that failed to produce it.

The motto of the Legion was ‘Viva la muerte!’ It

In contrast, discipline on duty and the field was extremely strict, even savage by English standards. Orders were executed at the double and usually reinforced by threats or imprecations; the slightest hesitation, laxity or inefficiency was punished on the spot by a series of blows across the face and shoulders from the fusta—a pliant switch made from a bull’s pizzle, which was carried by all officers and sergeants. More

If there is any case of an attempt on the virtue of a woman, it will be punished on the spot by death.’ He

The earlier happy atmosphere evaporated without any corresponding gain in efficiency.

The New Year opened sadly for me. On January 31st a Press car containing four friends of mine—Dick Sheepshanks, Kim Philby, and two American correspondents, Eddie Neil and Bradish Johnson—was passing through the village of Caude, eight miles north-west of Teruel, during an enemy artillery bombardment, when a 12.40 cm. shell burst beside it. Sheepshanks and Johnson were killed outright. Neil died a few days later; Philby escaped with a wound in the head.

Campos was a tall, flabby young man, a little stupid and morose. He told me that he had been one of the original members of the Falange in Granada, and that he had taken part in the firing squad that executed the poet García Lorca. I prefer to believe him a liar. The Nationalists, including the Falange, strongly denied any responsibility for Lorca’s death, attributing to the vengeance of his private enemies, of which he had a large number; certainly he had many good friends on the Nationalist side who would have saved him if they could. His murder was a crime that robbed the world of one of its greatest living lyric poets; the mystery of it has never been satisfactorily explained.

They complained bitterly of well-fed Political Commissars who came from Madrid or Barcelona to give them lectures on The Fighting Spirit or The Meaning of Democracy.

At this moment a voice behind me said in English: ‘Excuse me, but didn’t we meet at Cambridge?’ Wondering if I was dreaming I turned and saw a lieutenant of artillery of about my own age, with a pleasant, clean-shaven face. He introduced himself as Guy Spaey. He had, in fact, been a contemporary of mine at Cambridge, where he was at King’s; we had a number of friends in common. Of mixed Belgian, Dutch and German extraction, he had arrived in Spain in October 1936, and immediately joined the Nationalist forces. At the moment of our meeting he was Gun Position Officer of a battery of 10.5 cm. mountain artillery, attached to Lieutenant-Colonel Peñaredonda’s command.

and from the north-west by the First Cavalry Division and the 5th Navarre Division, both under the command of General Monasterio.

Mora let her finish—I think she would have scratched his eyes out if he had interrupted. Then he asked her what she thought her loss was worth, paid her the sum she demanded and told the officer of the Vigilancia to find the offenders; they did a month in the Pelotón. I imagine the Duke of Wellington, who had his troops flogged for similar offences,1 would have approved of Mora.

At first sight von Hartmann, though short and handsome, looked like the typical Prussian officer of stage and screen, with close-cropped hair, scarred face and monocle.

am inclined to turn red in the face when scared, and I couldn’t help laughing when one of the ammunition numbers cried out: ‘Look at the colour of the Alférez’s face! It’s giving away our position.’

About this time I had another lesson in the workings of chance, in the form of a letter from my brother, once again at Gibraltar. He told me that his new observer, Charles Owen, had a brother who was also in the Legion; did I know him? His family were half Spanish and had lived in Vigo before the war. As it happened, there was a lieutenant in the 55th Company who came from Vigo, a sombre but friendly character called Arrieta; upon inquiry I had found that he knew the Owens well: Charles,

Cecil Owen and I must have been the only two British officers in the Corps; meanwhile our only brothers were in the same ship, flying together in the same aircraft. After receiving a citation for the Medalla Militar, Cecil Owen was killed in the Battle of the Ebro at the end of August, serving with the 16th Bandera.

Gay, courageous and sincere, he was one of the sweetest-natured men I have ever met. He did not live long.

At nine o’clock on the morning of February 28th I was ordered to withdraw my guns and rejoin the Bandera below; by ten o’clock I had completed the withdrawal. Around noon a ‘75’ shell landed squarely on top of my recent command post, blowing it inside out.

As we marched along the road we saw ahead of us the ‘circuses’ of our fighters diving in rotation to machine-gun the fleeing Republicans, harrying them incessantly with hand grenades tossed from the cockpits as well as with their guns. Later we heard from prisoners that these grenades, although they caused few casualties, were very demoralizing.

Beyond were several half-ruined shepherds’ huts; against their walls about a dozen prisoners were huddled together, while some of our tank crews stood in front of them loading rifles. As I approached there were a series of shots, and the prisoners slumped to the ground. ‘My God!’ I said to Cancela, feeling slightly sick. ‘What do they think they’re doing shooting the prisoners?’ Cancela looked at me. ‘They’re from the International Brigades,’ he said grimly.

It was over lunch the next day that I nerved myself to ask Cancela: ‘Where do the orders come from that we must shoot all prisoners of the International Brigades?’ ‘As far as we’re concerned, from Colonel Peñaredonda. But we all think the same way ourselves. Look here, Peter,’ he went on with sudden vehemence, ‘it’s all very well for you to talk about International Law and the rights of prisoners! You’re not a Spaniard. You haven’t seen your country devastated, your family and friends murdered in a civil war that would have ended eighteen months ago but for the intervention of foreigners. I know we have help now from Germans and Italians. But you know as well as I do that this war would have been over by the end of 1936, when we were at the gates of Madrid, but for the International Brigades. At that time we had no foreign help. What is it to us if they do have their ideals? Whether they know it or not, they are simply tools of the Communists and they have come to Spain to destroy our country! What do they care about the ruin they have made here? Why then should we bother about their lives when we catch them? It will take years

He paused for breath, then went on: ‘Another thing; I mean no offence to you personally, Peter, but I believe that all Spaniards⁠—even those fighting us—wish that this war could have been settled one way or another by Spaniards alone. We never wanted our country to become a battleground for foreign powers. What do you think would happen to you if you were taken prisoner by the Reds? You’d be lucky if they only shot you.’

it was better to be one of the heroic wounded than one of the glorious dead;

As I unwound the tape from a grenade and slung it across the clearing I understood that at last I was face to face with death; that there was nothing I could do about it. With that realization there came over me an extraordinary sense of freedom and a release from care. A few yards in front of me I caught sight of the red and yellow colours of a Nationalist flag which had been carried by one of our pelotones; it was on the ground beneath the dead body of its bearer. Running forward—I realize now, of course, that this was the most puerile dramatics—I seized the flag and ran back with it; calling encouragement to my men, I waved it in a wide arc. Whether this nonsense had any moral effect I am unable to say: a second or two later there was a soft thud beside me, an anguished shout of warning from my runner—‘Cuidado mí Alférez !—and a violent explosion.

Nearly a year later I learnt that our adversaries this day were a British battalion of the International Brigades; Captain Don Davidson, my informant and one of its Company Commanders, told me that their own casualties were very heavy.

Captain Don Davidson, an English officer of the International Brigades whom I met subsequently, confirmed that I should certainly have been shot if captured. CHAPTER TEN After

In fact it never occurred to me to offer my services to the British Intelligence authorities, even if I had known how to do so; certainly they never approached me—I suppose I was considered too irresponsible.

‘Oh God!’ I prayed, ‘don’t let me die like this, in terror!’ I took a grip on myself, remembering how someone once said to me, ‘You’re never dead till you think you are’.

Sheean had run his own hospital for the British Army in the First World War, after which he had gone to America, where he had a fashionable and lucrative practice lifting the faces of the ageing rich; but his hobby was travelling round Europe, treating wounded ex-Servicemen without payment; just before coming to Spain he had paid a visit to Turkey for this purpose.

Next morning, when I was wheeled down to the operating theatre, I took the bottle with me and asked Scherman if I might use it in place of the anesthetic he couldn’t give me. ‘Certainly! I might even have a nip with you.’ I started with an enormous swig, he with a very small one to encourage me; then he set to work. Whenever the pain became too much for me I signaled him to stop and took a long pull at the brandy. In this way I finished the bottle, feeling comparatively little pain during the operation, although I felt a great deal when the effect of the brandy had worn off. I was quite proud of myself until I remembered that this was the manner in which operations were usually performed before the last century.

Random Thoughts on Leonard Cohen

Thought Organization Status – Ramble

After hearing a song from him on the show Your Honor I looked him up recently, and discovered that he had a great many albums (some live and compilations, but still) in his late period that I managed to miss during my bluegrass period. That led me to this article on his love lives, which I found quite interesting. I found the line “He had many adulthoods” quite gripping, though not quite accurate.

Upon reflection on his personal life and career in the back of my head while doing a lot of rote cut and paste work I had the thought, “Leonard Cohen was a machine who converted people into art” (not meant as a compliment)

The album cover is one of my favorite photographs

Towards a unified theory of fringe groups in the great culture war

One odd thing I’ve noticed about our current times is how massively illiterate the movements are. Communism in the 1930s actually turned people away, Woody Guthrie prominent among them. There seem to be no foundational texts amongst any of the fringe movements(Defund, the Q people, the Proud Boys, whatever passes for anarchism these days, the very woke, etc, etc).

I first noticed this trend a few years ago in this interview with this… person.

Oddly, I came across this post I wrote a while back

Ideology as the usable consensus of extreme personality types – see my “Let’s Kill Hitler” book idea. Basically the ideology evolves not as the continuation of first principles, but as a series of compromises on the part of part of the extreme personalities involved – basically the ideology is whatever allows a certain collection of extreme personalities to work together. Cooperation is the important thing – not the consequences. An extreme ideology will be composed of extreme members and so forth. See the the alt-right and modern wokeness.

I’m reminded of the Utah Phillips line “common sense of degradation”. The modern unifying feature would seem to be a common sense of alienation from visible society.

Update – Feb 13th, 2023

I was going to update the post as a clarifier, but it is probably better off as a new paragraph(s).

I think what I’m trying to say is that books are no longer Schelling points. You could always point to some habit or event as not in keeping with the laws of the old testament or das kapital, but can you really point to a new habit or event as something that conflicts with the outrage over George Floyd or gas pipelines? Instead it just evolves with the changing preferences and day to day hatreds of the people drawn to the original Schelling point. Which basically means that the alienated fringe will be both dynamic and dysfunctional. Not a big deal really (what else would they be doing) but with internet and mobile technology they are unified and strangely influential on mass culture. Instead of the top 5% of the population in alienation moving in a thousand different directions they will move in 2 or 3. The lack of textual constraint allows them to keep up with current fashions, trends and technologies. And an active, motivated, unified (same people, shifting goals and language) 5% of people with very strong preferences is a meaningful marketing and voting bloc.

I suppose in a way this is a rediscovery of BJ Campbell’s “auto update” feature of the culture war, but with lack of foundational texts as well as Schelling points added to the explanation.

Update Feb 14th, 2023

Thinking about this again – I realize that I’m underemphasizing the role of fashion and ease of coverage by the modern media. “Wokeism” (the Q people not as much) is very, very, very easy, and cheap to cover from a home office – all you have to do is weave a bunch of screenshots from Twitter into an existing story and there you go. Gresham’s law, improperly formulated strikes again – bad stories will drive out good stories based purely on price. Currently the ease of coverage and woke fashion overlap rather well., although crime does seem to be taking away from this a bit.

An aside – it would be great if ChatGPT (or whatever AI is current at the time you read this) came up with an approximate price for each news story. Media articles in whatever form are usually not presented in terms of cost – but it would be great if they were. Say this is what your news source looked like:

  • Celebrity A says Celebrity B is washed up and has had bad plastic surgery ($35, warning, Tweets)
  • See our in depth, on scene coverage of the Syrian Civil War ($17,500)

If an AI browser plugin created something like that, along with a “Hide under $1000” checkbox I would be eternally grateful.

The Land of Enterprise: A Business History of the United States – A review

From my Notion template

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. A surface level history of business in America. There nothing terribly new or interesting in this book. Other books, most notably American Republics , do a better job of presenting information.


It is a very surface level economic history of the United States. Granted – I’m a tough crowd, I’ve read several books on the topic – taken several classes, etc, etc, but there wasn’t that much new in the book.

How I Discovered It

The Amazon Algorithm

Who Should Read It?

Someone looking for a very rudimentary overview of US economic history

How the Book Changed Me

Nothing changed

My Top 3 Quotes

  • Approximately 80 percent of the English migrants to Virginia between 1607 and 1624, or close to five thousand, were dead by 1625. Hemorrhaging money and unable to attract new investors, the Virginia Company failed in 1624, when the English government declared Jamestown a royal colony
  • The push for national independence grew strongest in the parts of the British empire that could envision their economies operating without the British army present.
  • In fact, by the mid-19th century, approximately two hundred thousand slaves worked in industrial settings. At the outbreak of the Civil War, more than sixty worked for, and were owned by, William Weaver, a native Philadelphian who moved to Virginia in 1814 to establish an iron forge with two charcoal blast furnaces in the Shenandoah Valley.

All Quotes

When historians use the term feudalism, they are attempting to describe an economic system in which power relations among people formed the building blocks of society.

Monarchs in Spain, France, and England grew wealthier through trade, which spread from the Mediterranean to coastal West Africa, and then to the Americas. In the process, they consolidated military power at the expense of local lords.

At the same time, these mercantilist exploits brought a major economic downside. The huge amounts of silver shipped back to Spain flooded the currency market, sparking a bout of inflation that lasted a century and crippled the Spanish economy. In spite of its large land-holdings in the Americas, Spain would never recover the economic power it wielded in the early 16th century.

Most of those early migrants lived along the Atlantic coast in former Indian towns that had been abandoned during the plague epidemic that forced survivors inland from the coast in the late 16th century.

fact, the first two successful English colonies in what would become the United States—Virginia (1607) and Massachusetts Bay (1620)—were themselves private companies.

Joint-stock companies, the forerunners of today’s publicly owned corporations, pooled private sources of capital under the official protection of the crown, funding ventures that were too expensive or risky for an individual person. Drawing on a system of legal contracts developed in Italy centuries earlier, 16th-century English monarchs pioneered the practice of issuing corporate charters that granted an exclusive right to trade in a certain area to a particular group of subjects. In addition to creating a helpful monopoly, these charters created legal entities whose ownership was spread among several investors. These people purchased shares, or stock, to make up the whole company, which they owned jointly. Hence, “joint-stock company.”

Approximately 80 percent of the English migrants to Virginia between 1607 and 1624, or close to five thousand, were dead by 1625. Hemorrhaging money and unable to attract new investors, the Virginia Company failed in 1624, when the English government declared Jamestown a royal colony.15

Three years later, approximately one hundred people—a combination of the Separatists who had bought the patent and others who purchased their own passage directly—landed by accident far to the north of Jamestown in a former Massasoit Indian town, which they renamed Plymouth.

(We start to refer to “Britain” instead of “England” after the Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707 by the English and Scottish Parliaments unified those two countries into the United Kingdom of Great Britain.)

The American slave population became self-sustaining in the early 18th century, so even as the international trade declined, the population of enslaved people grew. By

the 1770s, nearly seven hundred thousand people, or 15 percent of the total non-Indian population of the United States, were enslaved.

Almost 95 percent of all enslaved people in the United States at the time of the Founding lived in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. One-third of the population of those southern colonies was enslaved, and approximately one-third of all southern households owned slaves.

The push for national independence grew strongest in the parts of the British empire that could envision their economies operating without the British army present.

On the other hand, Europeans on the periphery of the British empire depended greatly on the mother country. In present-day Canada, which Britain acquired from France after the Seven Years War in 1763, ongoing conflicts between the substantial native population and far-flung European fur traders and fishers meant that colonists depended greatly on British military support. In the slave societies of the West Indies, native inhabitants had been almost entirely annihilated, and small numbers of English colonists owned massive sugar plantations farmed by African slaves, whose numbers eclipsed those of their white owners by as much as ten to one in 1780. Landowners relied on brutal violence, sanctioned and backed by British law, and the strength of the British military, further cementing their ties to the crown.

generations. Beginning in the early 15th century, merchants from kingdoms and city-states along the west coast of Africa established commercial relationships with Portuguese merchants, trading gold and spices for European metals and textiles. From the beginning, African-European commerce included the trade in human beings.

In 1807, both the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress outlawed the international trade of slaves. (The Constitution of 1787, in an effort to forge a compromise between slave-owning interests and antislavery advocates, had included a clause prohibiting any move to ban the trade for twenty years.) By 1820, all other major European powers had as well.

Large plantations certainly wielded disproportionate economic power, but most southern whites were not slave-owners. Historians estimate that, by the time of the Civil War, about 385,000 out of a total of 1.5 million white households in the South owned slaves. (African Americans and Native Americans did not own slaves in significant numbers, and were usually legally barred from doing so.) About half of these slave-owning households owned between one and five slaves; another 38 percent owned between six and twenty. Although they held a vastly disproportionate level of wealth, the remaining 12 percent of slave-owners (those who had twenty-plus slaves) represented only 3 percent of all white households.

In fact, by the mid-19th century, approximately two hundred thousand slaves worked in industrial settings. At the outbreak of the Civil War, more than sixty worked for, and were owned by, William Weaver, a native Philadelphian who moved to Virginia in 1814 to establish an iron forge with two charcoal blast furnaces in the Shenandoah Valley.

A significant number of enslaved people lived in urban areas such as Charleston and Baltimore. There, some slaves labored for, and often alongside, their owners in workshops, but many were owned by urban professionals—doctors, bankers, and lawyers who kept slaves as investment property. Some performed domestic duties, but more often they were hired out to work for private companies or to perform public works projects, such as digging canals or dredging harbors. Slave-owners received hourly pay for their slaves’ labor, and in many cases the enslaved people themselves brought home those wages in cash. In both cases, urban slaves often labored alongside free workers, both black and white.8

By the eve of the Civil War, historians estimate that the total cash value of the 4 million slaves in the American South was $3.5 billion in 1860 money. At more than 80 percent of the country’s total economic output, that figure would be roughly $13.8 trillion today. Understood in that way, enslaved people were capital assets worth more than the country’s entire productive capacity from manufacturing, trade, and railroads combined.

1776, when Thomas Jefferson declared the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal,” nearly 15 percent of the 4 million non-Indian inhabitants of the United States were enslaved. Although slavery remained legal in all states, almost 95 percent of enslaved people lived south of Pennsylvania, and the highest concentration was in Virginia.

By 1804, every state north of Delaware had legally abolished the practice, and new midwestern states and territories that joined the nation in the decades to come likewise prohibited it.

Slavery in the North died out because of the organizational power of antislavery activists combined with the lack of large-scale commercial agriculture in the region.

Evidence suggests that many, if not most, white northerners had no moral problem with slavery, but few powerful interests had much to gain by defending it.

In 1794, a twenty-eight-year-old Yale-educated New Englander named Eli Whitney, engaged as a tutor for the children of a plantation owner in South Carolina, patented a machine that mechanically separated cotton fibers from cotton seed. According to the traditional story, Whitney invented this “cotton gin” (gin was short for “engine”) after observing enslaved people slowly and painfully removing seeds from cotton balls.

The amount of cotton an individual enslaved person could prepare for export rose as use of the mechanical devices spread. By some estimates, the per-slave cotton yield increased 700 percent.

The results for the cotton industry were astounding. Southern planters produced around 3,000 bales of cotton per year in the early 1790s. By 1820—by which time domestic textile manufacturing had spread considerably—that number approached 450,000. By the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the South grew and exported (either domestically or abroad) nearly 5.5 million bales of cotton per year.

Karl Marx, who was simultaneously capitalism’s fiercest critic and its most trenchant analyst, viewed slavery and capitalism as incompatible.

Just as slavery drove the southern economy, manufacturing became increasingly important to the economies of the Northeast and, by the middle of the 19th century, the Midwest. And just as slavery’s social and economic reach extended far beyond the South, so, too, did industrialization exert a powerful influence on all Americans.

The Boston Associates engaged so-called “mill girls” to perform the difficult and monotonous work of textile production. Primarily the daughters of white Protestant farmers, these workers encountered a paternalistic social system at the mills, designed to “protect” their feminine virtue and convince their parents to allow them the social independence to live away from home. Lowell provided dormitories for workers as well as churches, libraries, and stores.

In 1790, only 5 percent of Americans lived in urban settings; by 1860, 20 percent did.

Unlike roads, waterways allowed merchants to move large quantities of textiles, iron, slaves, and foodstuffs over significant distances. According to one estimate, the amount of money it took to ship a ton of goods from Europe to an American port city would only get the same cargo about thirty miles inland pulled by a wagon.

These trenches—a few feet deep, a few dozen feet across, but sometimes hundreds of miles long—represented a tremendous engineering challenge. They were designed so that draft animals could walk parallel to the water, dragging nonmotorized barges laden with goods. As a result, the

In most cases, municipal governments saw a positive return on their investments, not only in direct payments but also through the tremendous economic growth generated by the new system of canals—three thousand miles’ worth by the 1840s, linking the Atlantic seaboard with midwestern cities such as Terre Haute, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

while canals increased the ease with which large quantities of goods could be moved from the interior to the seaboard, ultimately those goods moved only as quickly as the oxen dragging the barges.

The American foray into rail began in 1828, when the state of Maryland chartered the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company, which laid tracks to the west to create an alternative to canal traffic. The first steam-powered locomotive to travel those rails moved slower than a horse, but within two decades, the technology improved. The railroad boom took off in the late 1840s, and the number of miles of tracks multiplied. Americans laid more than twenty-one thousand miles of railroad track in the 1850s. By the eve of the Civil War, a New Yorker could reach Chicago in two days, a trip that would have taken three weeks in 1830.

The U.S. Post Office, which was granted a special license and responsibility by the Constitution to deliver the country’s mail, expanded from seventy-five branches in 1790 to more than eighteen thousand by 1850.

In the 1840s, a group of investors formed a rapid-delivery service that charged customers high fees to move parcels by stagecoach westward from the East Coast. Within ten years, that original partnership broke up into several specialized companies, including Wells Fargo and American Express.

Yellow highlight | Page: 54
The first telegraph was created by the French government in the 1790s to allow communication from Paris to twenty-nine cities up to five hundred miles away. But those original telegraph networks were optical, not electronic. To make them work, trained operators staffed towers spaced ten to twenty miles apart, from which they sent coded signals by shifting the positions of specialized panels. Although nothing in the United States matched the complexity of the French system, smaller networks of optical telegraphs emerged along the Atlantic Coast in the first decade of the 1800s, and others connected New York and Boston to their outlying farming communities in the 1810s. Optical

By erecting poles alongside railroad tracks, telegraph companies made all parts of their network accessible, so they could perform maintenance and protect against the elements and sabotage. Thus, as railroads spread across the continent in the mid-19th century, the electronic telegraph went with them.

Yet before 1800, corporate charters were far from common, and almost no business enterprises were incorporated. Because charters had to be granted by the sovereign—the king or Parliament in colonial times; the state or federal legislature after independence—the few corporations extant were almost exclusively public operations, such as turnpikes, bridges, churches, and cities, including New York. During the entire 18th century, charters were issued to only 335 businesses—and much more than half of those were issued in the last four years of the century.

Unlike today, when incorporation is granted in perpetuity, most antebellum corporate charters were limited in time, set to expire after a fixed period of ten, twenty, or thirty years. Nonetheless, having a distinct legal existence separate from their owners made corporations appear more stable and predictable, and made them more attractive to investors.

Slowly, states turned to a new model known as general incorporation, granting corporate charters administratively, rather than legislatively. In 1811, New York became the first state to enact such a law for manufacturing firms. In 1837, Connecticut became the first state to allow general incorporation for any kind of business.

A landowning Virginian, Jefferson believed that self-reliant and small-scale family farms, not impersonal factories (or, ironically, large slave-labor plantations like his), provided a bulwark against tyranny and ensured the future of self-governance.

In the years to come, the Jeffersonian Republicans completed the rout of the Federalists at nearly all levels—by the War of 1812, the Federalist Party barely clung on in remote and far-flung corners of state and local politics, but had largely disappeared as a national force.3 Yet

These three pillars—tariffs, internal improvements, and a national bank—formed the essence of the American System.

In addition, the Bank’s corporate structure reinforced the privileged place of the wealthy: The federal government itself owned 20 percent of the corporate stock, while the other 80 percent was sold to wealthy Americans. Yet this structure was exactly as Hamilton intended. By catering to elite merchants, the Bank wrapped up their financial interests in federal institutions and thus guaranteed that they would continue to lend political, moral, and economic support to the Constitution and its government.

Jackson’s coalition, heirs to the Jeffersonian Republican tradition, renamed themselves as Democrats during the fight. Beginning in 1833, their opponents identified as Whigs, taking the name of the British party that had historically challenged the authority of the king. (The “king,” to these American Whigs, was Jackson himself.) America’s second party system was born. The

Hoping to mollify southern planters, Congress passed, and President Jackson signed, a law to lower tariff rates in the summer of 1832. Enraged politicians in South Carolina still insisted that the rates were too high. In the fall of 1832, South Carolina’s legislature passed a law nullifying the federal tariff. In response, a vengeful Andrew Jackson asked Congress for the right to use military force to collect tariffs in that state. Calhoun resigned the vice presidency and declared that any use of force by Jackson would give South Carolina a just cause to declare its independence from the United States.15 For a few months, the possibility of armed conflict appeared real. Only skillful diplomacy defused the crisis. Congress passed a compromise tariff that lowered rates, on the condition that South Carolina repeal its nullification statute. Yet the battle lines that formed over the Nullification Crisis, as well as the constitutional and legal theories about the relationship between the federal government and the states, established a powerful precedent.

The first “land grant” law, passed in 1850, designated a line—which would become the Illinois Central Railroad—between Mobile, Alabama, and Chicago, Illinois. The law created a series of six-mile-square land parcels along each side of the proposed track; in an alternating, checkerboard pattern, the federal government bequeathed every other parcel to the states of Illinois, Alabama, and Mississippi, and sold the others off to farmers.

oceans. Although economic recession in the mid-1870s slowed the juggernaut somewhat, Americans laid up to 8,000 miles of track per year through the 1880s. By 1890, the country boasted 166,000 miles; by the early 20th century, there would be 254,000 miles of tracks.

Railroads became the first “Big Business” because they combined the unique scale and scope of their industry and the deliberate choices by their leaders to adopt what we now recognize as a modern system of management.

Educated and skilled office workers, they would—along with other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants—form the heart of a new urban middle class in the modern American economy. Keeping their company in business for years to come meant job security, so professional managers tended to promote stable and less risky business practices.

In 1856, he borrowed $600 from a personal mentor (who was also his boss) and bought stock in a transport company that soon paid him his first return: a check for $10. By 1863, still a manager at the Penn Railroad, the $45,000 he made per year from his stock investments far outpaced his salary.

In 1867, he and a handful of partners launched an oil refinery in Cleveland, just as the commercial petroleum industry was beginning to grow.

A 19th-century “trust” resembled what we would call a holding company today. As a legal entity distinct from any of the member companies, the Standard Oil Trust controlled all the stock of those corporations, centralizing control over prices, distribution schedules, and other business decisions. By the 1890s, more than 90 percent of the oil produced in the United States was refined through Standard

As a percentage of gross domestic product, which at the turn of the last century was about $21 billion, the merger that birthed U.S. Steel would be worth about $1 trillion today.

The largest and fastest-growing corporations in the decades after the Civil War were typically more capital-intensive than labor-intensive.

Morgan had an extremely conservative disposition toward risk, even by the standards of bankers, who were traditionally averse to excessive gambles.

The disastrous financial Panic of 1893 created new opportunities for Morgan to put his vision of corporate control into action. The economic collapse, precipitated by overspeculation in railroads, crippled the nation. More than fifteen thousand companies, including six hundred banks, failed in what became the worst economic depression to that point in U.S. history. As countless railroad companies teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, Morgan and a handful of his partners engineered a series of takeovers and mergers. Shareholders in those failing companies surrendered their stocks in exchange for “trust certificates,” and the House of Morgan took control of the companies’ assets. In the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, approximately thirty-three thousand miles of railway track (one-sixth of the total) was “Morganized.”22

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877—the first major industrial strike in American history—began in July, when workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in West Virginia walked off the job. Their specific grievances were local—a series of sharp pay cuts as the B&O struggled through the protracted economic depression that followed the Panic of 1873—but their fury echoed across the industrial heartland. Within

Men, women, and children by the thousands toiled in dirty, dark, dangerous environments in factories and mills, quarries and mines, rigs and rail yards. The spread of mechanization and chemical technologies made work itself more boring and, simultaneously, more dangerous. Booming industry drew rural Americans away from farms and into cities, where they competed with a massive influx of European immigrants in a flooded labor market.

One of the earliest and most dramatic manifestations of class tension between laborers and economic elites was the creation of a national labor union in 1869 called the Knights of Labor. Officially called “The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor” and first organized as a secret society, the Knights of Labor grew into a major voice for the wholesale reform of the industrial system. Unlike most trade unions, the Knights welcomed both skilled and unskilled workers from the craft, retail, and manufacturing sectors, and, quite notable for their day, they encouraged membership by both African Americans and women. Central to the Knights’ social vision was the notion of the producer. So long as you made something, they reasoned, you served a social good, regardless of your race, sex, or relationship to the means of production. The only people the group actively excluded were “nonproducers”—liquor dealers, gamblers, lawyers, and bankers, for example.

A horrific incident in Chicago in the spring of 1886 helped cement the link between the Knights of Labor and radical, often violent, socialism in the minds of many business leaders. Amid a labor protest in Haymarket Square, someone threw a bomb that killed ten people. Eight suspects, all loosely affiliated with the Knights and variously described as anarchists, were convicted of murder. The Knights themselves were not involved, but their public image never recovered. Membership peaked in 1886, and the group declined in size and influence thereafter.

Within weeks, the strikers attracted the support of the burgeoning American Railway Union (ARU), the first industry-specific nationwide union. The ARU had been founded the previous year by Eugene V. Debs, a labor organizer from Indiana who would later—after his imprisonment for leading the Pullman Strike—become the country’s most prominent socialist politician and activist.

Troops killed several dozen strikers in clashes before the strike ended. Eugene Debs served six months in jail for violating a federal injunction to allow rail traffic to resume. During his imprisonment, he became a committed Marxist and later converted his American Railway Union into a socialist political party.

Yet the most distinctive aspect of the farmers’ political program, and the issue with which Bryan launched his career, was their attack on eastern banks and the influence of financiers over the national government. Monetary policy, in particular the question of the free coinage of silver, was their primary focus. The “silver question” often strikes history students as esoteric, obscure, and technical, yet it was one of the single most important political issues of the late 19th century. The struggle split the country between those who favored minting coins only in gold—monometallists—and those who wanted to use both silver and gold—the bimetallists. As a political rallying cry, the silver debate proved instrumental to a larger critique of corporate capitalism. Bimetallists,

As with everything in the history of big business, the story of regulation begins with the railroads.

Another strategy, which took aim at the rise of corporate monopolies more explicitly, led to the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. If the ICC had represented an effort to regulate monopolistic behavior, the antitrust movement endeavored to disband monopolistic companies entirely. Named after its chief proponent, Ohio senator John Sherman (brother of Union general William Tecumseh Sherman), the act sought to preserve the benefits of free competition by cracking down hard on anticompetitive behavior. It criminalized “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce.” Instead of prescribing rules and procedures to mitigate corporate power, as the ICC did, the law required the criminal prosecution of “every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade of commerce.

For the antimonopoly forces, U.S. Steel’s survival exposed the limitations of the antitrust movement. The Sherman Act successfully attacked cartels and price-fixing schemes, but because it banned restraint of trade, not market dominance in general, it did nothing to curb corporate mergers

Historians of the period have long used the phrase “Progressive Era” to describe the years between the turn of the century and the onset of World War I, defined by a political and intellectual response to the rapid rise of industrialized society. Rooted neither in radical socialism nor in unfettered laissez-faire economics, Progressivism sought to mitigate capitalism’s excesses while retaining its benefits. In the process, the Progressive period both reaffirmed classical elements of the American political tradition and established new institutions, government agencies, and expectations about the promise of democracy.

1908 Model T cost $850, but by the early 1920s, the price had fallen to under $300.

As one journalist put it in 1924: “The American citizen has more comforts and conveniences than kings had 200 years ago.”

Henry Ford didn’t invent the car—there were already six different models on display at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—but his devotion to the Model T starting in 1908 revolutionized the industry. Standardization was key: Ford simplified the design of his “Tin Lizzie” and used a bare minimum of parts (about five thousand).

To entice his workers to remain, Ford also pioneered labor policies that appeared progressive to many. In 1914, the company introduced the “five-dollar day,” when two dollars a day was more typical.9 In the next few years, Ford reduced the workday to eight hours and the workweek from six to five days, goals long championed by the labor, populist, and socialist movements. His business success, his personal austerity (especially when compared to the flamboyant wealth of men like J. P. Morgan), and his public devotion to the ideal that industrial workers should be able to afford the fruit of their labors—that a car should be inexpensive enough for the masses—contributed to Ford’s personal popularity around the world.

Before the rise of industrial capitalism, however, retail outfits were only found in cities and mostly sold specialty items such as books and furs. The idea of shopping for a variety of grocery or household items—or the notion that stores themselves could be big businesses—didn’t develop until the late 19th century.

In 1872, a Chicago-based traveling salesman named A. Montgomery Ward launched the country’s first mail-order firm. He published an illustrated catalog and mailed it, free of charge, to small-town farmers, who could then order products at lower prices than what local merchants charged. In 1886, another Chicagoan—a twenty-three-year-old man named Richard Sears—imitated Montgomery Ward’s success and started selling pocket watches by mail. Within a few years, Sears partnered with Alvah Roebuck, a watch repair specialist, providing both sales and maintenance services, all remotely. The pair broadened their offerings to compete directly with Montgomery Ward—their catalog became known as “the Farmer’s Bible,” and their Chicago warehouse filled orders from around the country.

Incorporated in 1893, Sears, Roebuck supplanted Montgomery Ward and became the country’s biggest mail-order company by 1900.13 In

The earliest and most famous pioneers of this model were F.W. Woolworth’s, which operated from 1878 to 1997, and the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, which survived until 2015 as the A&P supermarket. Formed in 1859, the A&P opened its doors in New York as a discount purveyor of teas and coffees, which its founders purchased in bulk straight from ships (allowing them to offer cheaper prices). Within twenty years, the A&P offered a wide variety of grocery products and owned stores in more than one hundred locations, stretching from Minnesota to Virginia. Combining efficient distribution channels, inventory management, and low costs—the hallmarks of Taylorism—grocery chains like the A&P grew prominent in the early 20th century.14 The success of the retail revolution, and the chain store model in particular, changed the way Americans identified as consumers, but it came at a cost.

Invented in the mid-19th century, Listerine was an alcohol-based chemical designed as a powerful antiseptic for use during surgery. In 1920, advertising copywriters for Lambert launched a marketing campaign that proposed a new use for this old product—as a solution to bad breath (when taken in small quantities and not swallowed!). In its ads, Lambert introduced Americans to the word “halitosis,” an obscure but clinical-sounding, scientific word for “bad breath,” giving the impression that Listerine addressed a pressing medical problem. By 1927, Lambert’s profits, driven by Listerine sales, had skyrocketed from one hundred thousand dollars a year to more than $4 million, in the process changing the daily ablution habits of millions of people.18

General Motors was founded in 1904 when William Durant, a carriage maker in Flint, Michigan—just seventy miles northwest of Henry Ford’s headquarters in Detroit—took over a small and failing car company called Buick. Over the next several years, Durant expanded his production of Buicks and absorbed dozens of other car manufacturers under his corporate umbrella, following the model of horizontal integration pioneered by large extractive companies such as Standard Oil. That rapid growth created organizational and managerial confusion, because the various constituent companies (Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and so on) each had their own internal structure, products, and corporate culture. Many of General Motors’s cars targeted the same type of consumer, leading to a frustrating internal competition that hurt profits. In the mid-1910s, Durant set his company on the road to resolving these problems by launching an important collaboration with executives from the DuPont Corporation.

Only after the death of Henry Ford in the late 1940s would the Ford Motor Company start to catch on to the modern strategy for marketing cars.

What made the years framed by the Roosevelt presidencies so pivotal for business history was not the flamboyant rhetoric, but the long-term dance between two emerging giants of the 20th century: the massive integrated corporation and the administrative, bureaucratic state, which developed an essentially associational relationship with each other.

During World War I, income taxes provided vital revenue for the government, but the tax regime was steeply progressive, applying only to the top earners. Only approximately 15 percent of American households paid any income taxes at all in 1918; the richest 1 percent contributed about 80 percent of all revenue and paid effective tax rates of about 15 percent of their total income.

During the Coolidge administration (1923–29), Mellon achieved many of his goals, and the top rate paid by individuals declined from 73 to 25 percent.

Total corporate profits fell from $10 billion to $1 billion, a drop of 90 percent.

By the time the market bottomed out in 1933, nominal gross domestic product was nearly half what it had been in 1929.

and gestures such as the “Hoover flag,” an empty pocket turned inside out.

As he put it: “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”29 Social Security was highly popular (rising from a 68 percent approval rating in 1936 to 96 percent in 1944), but many large corporations and business associations recoiled at the new expense employers faced.

All told, the United States government spent approximately $320 billion (in 1940s money) on World War II, about half of it borrowed from the public through bond sales and the other half raised in taxes. That spending provided a massive boost to the gross national product, which shot up from $88.6 billion in 1939 to $135 billion in 1945.

By 1944, unemployment had fallen to just over 1 percent (remember that the official rate hit 25 percent in 1933). Within the span of eleven years, in other words, the country had seen both the highest and lowest levels of joblessness of the century.

In 1929, prescription drugs accounted for only 32 percent of all medicines purchased in the United States (by cost); by 1969, that figure reached 83 percent.

In 1954, however, General Electric became the first private firm to own a mainframe computer when it bought a UNIVAC.

Roughly defined, a conglomerate is a corporation that conducts business in a wide range of markets and industries that have little or no relationship to one another. Berkshire Hathaway, the company founded by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, provides a familiar example of the form today—it acts as a holding company that owns and operates an array of disparate businesses, from GEICO insurance to Jordan’s Furniture to Fruit of the Loom.

The rise of the conglomerate form reshaped managerial culture. Conglomerate builders such as Charles Bluhdorn succeeded, at least for a time, because they were experts at managing their company as an investment portfolio, not as a productive entity.

From the 1960s onward, boards of directors increasingly sought to hire men (and let’s not forget that occupying the corner office was a nearly exclusively male privilege) who were experts not in a particular industry or niche, but in business management itself. Versatile generalists, holding degrees from the newfangled business schools mushrooming throughout the country, could adapt their broad understanding of business principles to any specific managerial problem they encountered. Conglomerate executives in particular often bragged that they could manage their companies through financial controls and measurements, remaining disconnected from the actual product or service the company provided. The

Bluhdorn’s successor (he died of a heart attack in 1983) renamed the company Paramount Communications in 1989 to take advantage of one of its highest-profile holdings, Paramount Pictures. The entire operation became part of the media giant Viacom in 1994.

In short, the dominant regulatory trend had been economic regulation. In contrast, the trend in the 1960s and 1970s was toward social regulations, rules that, by design, targeted aspects of business behavior not traditionally considered “economic”—public health and safety and, quite literally, the downstream consequences of companies’ production processes. There had been earlier examples of social regulation, including the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which led to the creation of the FDA to improve the safety and quality of food and medicine. Yet the scale and scope of this new type of regulation exploded in the late 1960s, reinforcing a cultural and political distinction between protecting the economy and protecting people from business.

In the early 1970s, Congress overhauled the laws governing campaign finance contributions. The federal government had regulated campaign giving to various degrees since the Tillman Act of 1907, which barred corporations and unions from donating to political campaigns on the rather explicit grounds that they were not humans.

Instead, with minor exceptions, businesspeople preferred other, less official ways to skirt the campaign finance laws. Executives, for example, routinely arranged for special bonuses to top managers, with the clear expectation that those managers would donate their windfall to the candidate of the corporation’s choice.

In 1975, the FEC clarified that political action committees were legally legitimate, and an explosion in corporate-backed political action committees followed. In the four years between 1974 and 1979, the number of business PACs increased tenfold, from 89 to 950, while the number of labor PACs barely budged, rising only from 201 to 226. The number of corporate PACs continued to soar, peaking around 1,800 in the late 1980s before declining slightly and largely leveling off. In the winter of 2016, the Federal Election Commission counted 1,621 political action committees affiliated with businesses, and 278 for labor.

Not satisfied with running a traditional restaurant, the McDonalds spent the 1940s searching for a way to simplify. They wanted a food item that they could perfect and sell at a constant, affordable, and profitable price. They settled on the hamburger.

In 1955, the American automobile giant General Motors topped Fortune magazine’s list of global companies ranked by annual revenue. For the remainder of the century, GM held that crown. Yet in 2002, it fell to second place, bested by a company that had barely been known outside of Arkansas in 1980 but exploded onto the international stage thereafter: Walmart.

The son of a farmer-turned-debt-collector, a teenage Sam Walton spent the Great Depression with his father foreclosing on delinquent farms in Missouri.

Rural America had traditionally been a hotbed of populist opposition to unfettered capitalism, from the anti-chain-store movement to opposition to the gold standard and eastern finance. Yet by the late 20th century, conservative politicians found greater success linking evangelical Christianity with free market economics.

When Gates stepped down from Microsoft in 2014 (having reduced his role since 2000), he was the wealthiest person on Earth.

At the beginning of 2008, five venerable and highly respected investment banks—the descendants of the “House of Morgan”—sat atop American financial capitalism. By the fall of that year, none of them existed. Two, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, avoided bankruptcy through emergency mergers (engineered to a significant degree by government officials and the Federal Reserve) with J.P. Morgan and Bank of America, respectively. The 150-year-old Lehman Brothers was not so lucky. After its leaders failed to convince government regulators to offer either a direct bailout or a “shotgun marriage” to another financial institution, Lehman entered the largest bankruptcy in history on September 15. The remaining two, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, surrendered their status as investment banks and transformed themselves legally into traditional bank holding companies, which faced far greater government regulation in exchange for easier access to government loans. As the former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation put it, it was “the end of Wall Street as we have known it.”

That political shift proved to be a guiding force behind the movement for widespread deregulation, which often garnered the support of groups that otherwise opposed each other politically. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act, a law spearheaded by liberal politicians such as Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and consumer activist Ralph Nader, as well as free-market conservatives like the economist Milton Friedman. The opponents to airline regulation argued that a more market-driven airline industry would face greater competition to cut rates and, eventually, provide better service.8

By the mid-1990s, having stripped away most of its functions, Congress finally dissolved the Interstate Commerce Commission

The redirection of capital to financial pursuits—the hallmark of the process of financialization—led to growing number of deals known as “leveraged buy-outs” (LBOs)—mergers that depended on tremendous amounts of borrowed money.

Before the mid-20th century, just under 50 percent of American households owned their own home. Excluding farmers, who owned land at disproportionate rates, the rate of homeownership was below 40 percent. Between 1940 and 1970, American homeownership rose steadily to about 65 percent,

After hovering around 65 percent for several decades, homeownership rates rose quickly between the late 1990s and 2007, reaching 69 percent.

either renegotiate the loan or resell the home later at a profit, convinced many people that homeownership was a foolproof investment. “They’re not making any more land,” went a common refrain.

This unfounded faith in the never-falling value of houses was perpetuated by mortgage lenders and the real estate business, which profited from every loan made and every home purchased. (Economic historians showed that the misunderstanding of historical home price values came from the simplest of oversights: Once you account for the overall increase in prices over time, the real—noninflationary—price of homes remained remarkably stable throughout the entire 20th century.)

A response to Henry George and the Lunar Society

I recently completed listening to this long and good interview of Lars Doucet on the Lunar Society Podcast – it aroused many strong feelings, so I thought I would share.

In no particular order

  • The problem with Georgism is the Georgists. To mix adages, the Georgist argument would be more convincing if they had more skin in the game and climbed Chesterton’s Fence. Why has the single tax on land been on the shelf for the past 100 years? Why do we have these other taxes? Explain!
  • A common problem in rationalism (and adjacent ideologies) is the inability to effectively understand and address the concerns of people ten years younger or older than the rationalist.
  • The soul of man does not contain a hole in the shape of high density living. People like the benefits, but density for the sake of density is not an inherent drive. A lot of Georgism seems to take that for granted.
  • Doucet presumes effective urban governance. Does Georgism make made sense with 70s level urban decay and state capacity?
  • The use of video game evidence creates a strong counter reaction in me.
  • Doucet takes the notion of “Rent” as a given -and provides no evidence that landlords do not compete the rent away in some form or fashion, or lose the rent in maintenance and improvements. Or if he did present compelling evidence I missed it.
  • The notion that the rentiers (to use Piketty’s term) do not contribute anything seems wrong. Why won’t the land owners just coordinate to increase the value of the property and increase overall prosperity via network effects? Seemingly the landowners would coordinate to bring productive labor and capital to their properties.
  • Why has no one, in any country, ever, tried a single tax on land? Sorry, but Norwegian oil isn’t similar enough. Come to think of it – how similar is it to land valuation in the age of serfdom?
  • Doucet does not provide any reason that a tax on land would necessarily displace ANY other form of taxation. He presents the land tax as just an additional tax.
  • Doucet should provide some explanation for why he should tax land rent and not educational/human capital rent. He alludes to the concept early in the conversation and does not adequately answer the question.

The list makes it seem like I’m more critical than I am – the topic fully engaged me and I will be reading the book at some point in the near future.

Dan Bern at Eddie’s Attic was a bust

It would seem that an “All Ages” music show does not equal and “Age Appropriate” music show (it was explicitly advertised as all ages).

I’ve only seen this guy once before (pesky pandemic) but the whole family likes him. His previous show (that I saw) was much cleaner. All of his online shows were much cleaner. The two kids I brought were the only kids there, maybe he didn’t see them. Oh well.

As a show it was nowhere near as good as the other one, or his average online show actually. The show did improve markedly as it went on, but sadly so did the inappropriateness. We left halfway though.

I imagine I will go see him again, but alone. A lesson learned I suppose.

On Vietnam, addiction, and substitutions

I saw the “During the Vietnam war American troops used lots of opiates , but when the troops came home very few of them continued using” line again.

I saw it on this substack post. Go ahead and read their entire post for more detail on their theories, but proponents of the this theory usually mention community and environment as inherent to the addiction process.

That could be the case, but one GIANT missing part of this story is that all of the troops went from a place where opiates, in the form of heroin, were common (Vietnam) to a place where alcohol was common (America). The human body substitutes opiates and alcohol easily. In and of itself a dropoff in opiate use proves nothing. The troops could just switch from heroin to the culturally celebrated and easily accessible alcohol. People use this example over and over without ever considering substitution.