North American capitalism

Authored by: Mark R. Wilson

The Routledge Companion to Business History

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415855563
eBook ISBN: 9780203736036
Adobe ISBN: 9781135007836


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North America is often understood as the region of the world in which capitalism has flourished most fully. Even during the colonial era, economic historians and sociologists have suggested, North America served as “capitalism’s promised land” (Atack, 2014). The early United States, in the eyes of European observers, including Alexis de Tocqueville and Werner Sombart, seemed to be exceptional for its fluid markets for consumer goods and labor, as well as its avoidance of strong socialist movements. By the twentieth century, as the historian Victoria de Grazia has explained it, the United States was a global capitalist hegemon, “the premier consumer society”, remarkable above all for its ability to create and export a system of mass-market capitalism (De Grazia, 2005). North America has been identified as the leading center of “liberal market economy”, a variety of capitalism featuring modest levels of regulation of business, flexible labor markets (with weak unions), high levels of poverty and inequality and a privileging of capitalists (investors) over employees and other stakeholders (Hall and Soskice, 2001; Rosser and Rosser, 2004; Thelen, 2004; Jacoby, 2005).

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