America is the richest country in the world and affords each of its legal citizens, a greater opportunity, with hard work and thrift, to reach a level of success that is impossible in any other part of the world. An individual is allowed and encouraged to rise as high as his talents can take him within America. The promise does not come to fruition for every member of our society but the promise is there, and for millions of Americans who find themselves within the Middle class, this promise has come true. But this has not always been the case.
There is still a distance between the rich and poor in this country but during the time which Mark Twain labeled as “The Gilded Age” and in a time before minimum wage and child labor laws, the distance between the worker and his boss, was greater than at any other time in American history. Other came along preaching a type of socialism. Huey Long was the most popular as well as the most powerful of these types and had he not been killed in 1935, his Share Our Wealth Program would have been allowed to catch hold of many towns and cities in the United States.
Capitalism and the Puritan’s as well as Alexander Hamilton’s dream for an economy that dealt heavily upon trade and commerce, eventually beat our Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry’s competing ideal of an agrarian society. And with America’s gross domestic product exceeding $38,000, Hamilton’s dream and the legacy of capitalism, though not perfect by a long shot, has given its citizens, a higher standard of living than their grandparents had ever thought possible.
The ongoing struggle for power and wealth will always be present within America. Shall capitalism continue to shine or will an economy more like that of Europe, where it is seen as the responsibility of the successful and hard working to create a permanent welfare state for those who do not wish to work and have this be accomplished through heavy income as well as retail taxes? There are some in America that would want just that to occur in America.
But in doing so, such a system would be completely ignorant of the history and progress and economic history that for all of its shortcomings, still are able to provide a higher standard of living to its citizens than anywhere in the world. New York, or rather New Amsterdam was first settled by the Dutch in 1620, not to worship God as they saw fit or in escaping some form of persecution in Europe but came rather to create a trading post beaver skins as well as other forms of commerce.
The formation of New York, the largest city in America and the financial capital of not only the country but also the world, was formed in order to create profits for its merchants. This type of work ethic and value for the almighty dollar was seen as well in the Puritans who helped redefine work as not only necessary but also a blessing as it showed one’s closeness to God and their salvation within him. This idea was later identified in 1905 by German sociologist Max Weber who credits this: “Protestant Work Ethic” as the reason behind the financial successes of America.
By the time of the American Revolution, Americans were ready to reside over their own financial and political history. The unmitigated tax on sugar and stamps in 1764 and 1765 by the British as a way to pay for their expenses that were incurred during the French and Indian War, was met with such fierce and unexpected resistance on the part of the colonists, such a wide gulf existed between the two sides after that, only a war of independence would end the fighting between the two sides.
A new nation who had control over their own political and economic future, bolstered by the cry of an emerging middle class, emboldened by John Locke’s ideas on one’s right to life liberty and property helped American to emerge as a nation unto itself. “Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 came as a blessing to the southern plantation owners and secured the future of the slaves for the next seventy years. ” Not only die the need for slaves grow as well as the pockets of their slave masters, but it was also a time for growth for settlers in the Midwest.
The completion of the Cumberland Pike in 1818 and the Erie Canal in 1825 helped to create waterways and helped to increase western farm produce to market. This helped spread the wealth from not only the large landowners but also to an emerging number of settlers as well. However, the wealth of the country would not become as concentrated and serve as a form of oppression until the emergence of the Industrial revolution. Mass production and a rapid development following the Civil War laid the groundwork for the modern US industrial economy.
Oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, the railroads were emerging as the number one source of travel for millions of Americans and the Bessemer Process, which helped to make steel cheaply and at large quantities, helped to give many jobs to the masses, but all too often, these jobs were met with substandard working conditions as well as slave wages and no power of collective bargaining. This brought on what is now called “The Gilded Age. ” This was a time in which a collective few controlled the vast majority of income and wealth in this country.
“Some of the most famous names were John D. Rockefeller as head of the Standard Oil Company, Andrew Carnegie and his steel plants as well as Jay Gould and John P. Morgan in banking. ” Each was ruthless in their pursuit of money, many times at the peril of their workers. ” In 1919, Rockefeller’s fortune was valued at over $12 billion. ” If allowing for inflation, his net worth would be thrice that of Bill Gates, the world’s richest man. This was due in part to the monopoly that big business was allowed to have over a certain industry.
This negated the ability of competition within factions of an industry and helped to keep prices and profits high but payment to workers low since there were no labor laws which would be there to help and protect the rights of the worker. These rights were under attack at all times in the late 19th century. One instance in where the workers organized and together, sought to improve their working conditions was in the 1894 Pullman Strike on the south side of Chicago.
Pullman was a company town in which the owner, George Pullman, had control of not only his workers when on the job, but also made a profit on every aspect of his workers’ daily lives. Workers were not paid in cash but in script that was for use in the Pullman owned stores as well as the rent that they would have to pay. In 1894, the workers pay was cut but their rents as well as the cost of everyday household goods actually increased. A strike broke out, so large and violent, that President Cleveland ordered in federal troops to stop the rebellion.
As a result, the strike was put down and the workers were brought back to a working condition that was no different than before they went on strike. It would not be until the early 20th century and within the Progressive Movement that the government saw that the gulf between the rich and the poor was too great to ignore. The first part of the 20th century saw a great increase in government involvement in the role of the American worker. At this time, the wealth of the country had been so heavily concentrated, that the top 4% of the country, boasted control of over 70% of its wealth.
And this occurred during a time when the average American worker earned slave wages while being forced to work in substandard conditions. “The passage of the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act which regulated the railroads as well as the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act which prevented large firms from controlling single industries all helped the worker. ” In Upton Sinclair’s classic novel, The Jungle in 1906, detailing the appalling conditions of the meat packers in Chicago and the conditions in which America’s foods were being processed, helped with the passage of the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration.
The passage of the 13th Amendment, which imposed an income tax on only those making more than $100,000 and which exercised a tax on those individuals of only 1%. ” But was a start as it recognized the fact that the rich who were able to benefit from the work of others, should be compelled to pay a larger share of the country’s income tax. This is still the case today. The Great Depression (1929-1941) saw a huge unemployment rate. ”By 1932, 24% of the country was out of work and conditions were especially bad in the farming communities all across the country.
” But as the government got more involved in the financial lives of its citizens, despite calls against such socialist programs, the GDP rose and the unemployment rate fell. From 1932 to 1940, the economy grew 58% and then another 56% during WWII. Also during this time, due in part to the war effort, the unemployment rate never went below 9% The post war era would see the United States as a creditor nation. Minimum Wage laws, social security and the popularity of labor unions and pensions for on the job lifetime experience, helped to give the middle class worker a bigger piece of the pie.
Since the end of WWII, the GDP has grown exponentially and even though there has been times of recessions (1970-1974 1990-1991 and 2001-2004) the US economy is strong. Also, with the Internet now giving the average American the ability to invest in the stock market and to make multiple trades a day with lightening fast speed, many average Americans are able to enjoy the profits of capitalism when before, such a privilege was reserved only for the risk. There are more small private business owners in America with a larger control of their own destiny than ever before.
Millions of immigrants have come to America in the 20 and 21st centuries to try to enjoy the wealth and fiscal prosperity that America offers to a larger percentage of its people than any other country in the world. America has a vast supply of productive farm lands, vast natural resources in lumber, coal and even oil, and an entrepreneurial spirit and a belief in investing in the human spirit, which helps to make America the richest country in the world.
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