“Capitalism, A Very Short Introduction” by James Fulcher poses the question “What is Capitalism?” and gives an overview of the rise of capitalism and its development into the capitalistic society that we live in now. He does this by giving a brief history on three different periods in time that give a very good depiction of what he believes is the answer to his question. In his own words Fulcher says, “capitalism involves the investment of money to make more money.” (pg. 18) I tend to agree with this definition as I believe the center of capitalism is money and finding the most efficient way to procure it.
Fulcher’s first story on the English and their involvement in the spice trade really opened my eyes to the idea of how capitalism is formed. I never took the time to really understand how countries throughout history had arrived to the point of capitalism. I also did not occur to me to think of how something so common place in the world today, the stock exchange, was created. The most interesting part of this event is how familiar it feels as a story today. The aristocrats investing their money into these voyages in the hopes of profits, buying spices at a lower price and then fetching them for a higher one in Europe, it doesn’t feel to different from today.
Fulcher’s detail on the shareholders of these voyages trying to discover different methods on how to mitigate the inherent risk of losing all their capital to a potential shipwreck or whatever the danger is very interesting. Shareholders deciding the best way to spread risk is to invest in price of all multiple voyages instead putting all their eggs in one basket is the answer of what capitalism is. Investing money to make more money and finding the most effective way to do it.
In the book Many Thousands Gone, the author Ira Berlin provides a closer look into the emergence of different societies in the Americas and the effects on these societies with the introduction of slaves. Within his book, Berlin presents two different societies: “a slave society” and a “society with slaves” and proceeds to distinguish the two. In his thorough investigation on what the foundations of a slave society consisted of, the justifications behind slave treatment on behalf of planters was what caught my attention the most.
Berlin presents “fatherhood” as a means of justification that planters used when it came to the enslavement of Africans during 17th century slave societies. Planters proceeded to paint a prettier picture as paternal figures as opposed to ruthless economic exploiters who fed their societal ego off of the sweat, blood, and tears of their slaves (Berlin 98). The role of a parent is generally to guide their children and to ensure security by providing food, shelter and knowledge. The role of a child is then to trust their parental guidance and to obey their parents. The catch with this relationship was that plantation owners “consigned slaves to a permanent childhood” (Berlin 99). In other words, slaves would never be able to “leave the nest” and would dedicate their entire life to laboring on a plantation. In addition, plantation owners fulfilled their “paternal role” but in the most minimalistic and brutal manner while slaves were expected to fulfill their role to their greatest ability. For example, it is known that slaves were given limited portions of food on a weekly basis, had extremely poor living conditions, and the “education” they received was from the planters. On the other hand, for planters it wasn’t enough just to have a large estate, private clubs, or a carriage and required more to prove their power and status.
Berlin also explains how the “relationship” between the planter and the slave was maintained using the same “father/child” principle. The same way a child is easily bribed with candy or a toy is the same way planters kept manipulating their slaves. Planters promised their slaves better conditions and eventual freedom in order to keep them working. When this wasn’t enough, coercion was utilized to implement fear and to maintain order within plantation society (Berlin 98). I find the idea of planter paternalism to consist of hypocrisy considering a relationship between a supposed father and child is based on love and respect. However, it is evident that there is no actual care for the slave from the planter once violence is used and how brutally the slaves are exerted. Berlin also indicates how planters developed this ideologies and supported them on pre-existing laws, indicating the Bible and Christianity. It is interesting to see how planters were identifying themselves as Christians and comparing themselves as “saviors” and as “fathers” yet only to do the contrary of the basic Christian morals. In my opinion, it seemed like the planters needed more saving than what they claimed that African slaves needed.
One historical event that stood out to me in the Fulcher’s Capitalism is the capitalist productions. This event stood out to me because of how much the idea correlate with the current time period. In one way you can see that the way we think about how production and cost affect the overall growth of individuals. In the text one evidence that helps this claim is “Gaining experience and making some money in the manufacture of cotton machinery, they set up their own firm in 1795”. (Fulcher,7) In this quote, this means that when you see a success of one thing, privatized firms will start to monopolize on the ideas. With the competitiveness of the industries, many people will soon to hop on to the ideas causing a mass production of a certain product. However, for the growth of a company/ the individuals, there has a to be either a uniqueness or a bigger growth than others. This allows them to either have a monopoly or their product has a uniqueness that allows it to succeed. Also in this article, the profit is shown tto be the workers who turn the cotton into yarn. This also correlates with the modern times because of how much, the workers really impact the growth and success of the company. Without the workers, the production and the company itself, will not be able to sustain and make profits. Another good from this that really shows how much the industry has not changed from back the early 1800s to now, is “by requiring long continuous work during work hours and ruling out non- work activity, employers had separated leisure and work.” I thought this quote was interesting because of the truth behind it. In today’s world, most people changed how much work should be different from work life and this really allows us to enjoy time we have off.
The reading “Capitalism, A Very Short Introduction” by James Fulcher goes in-depth into the history of capitalism. Fulcher regards capitalism as “essentially the investment of money in the expectation of making a profit.” (Fulcher 2) The scarcity and distance fundamentally determine the outcome of an expedition. This reading also introduced three forms of capitalism. The three forms being: merchant capitalism, capitalist production, and financial capitalism.
Merchant capitalism being the earliest form of capitalism (started in the seventeenth century), was the term given to the idea of traveling to source undersupplied goods to make a profit. This journey was accompanied by a lot of risk and distance brought along more profit, along with the increased risk factor already present regardless. Usually, these trips would be made with multiple ships to avoid losses, especially under unknown circumstances. Through this method, there is a higher chance of bringing back goods and making a profit.
Capitalist production was coined to the idea of private ownership of businesses in hopes of gaining a profit. Fulcher introduced capitalist production by telling the story of James M’Connel and John Kennedy, who have made an earning in the manufacture of cotton machinery. This portion of the reading continues as it informs the readers of their success. Often, leaders involved in capitalist production would profit off their employees from their work and pay low wages. This caused conflict in the workforce as workers would constantly be working to help produce profit for the employers and the number of time workers had split between working and leisure time was up for debate.
The most modern term regarding capitalism is financial capitalism. This form of capitalism concerns financial enterprises. An example in the modern world can include the stock market. If an individual manages to play their cards right in this market, one can gain a considerable profit. If you are unlucky like Nick Leeson, you can miss out on a massive profit to the point of being in the negative digits. Leeson’s losses resulted in the bankruptcy of Barings Bank.
As Fulcher points out in the reading, each form of capitalism is very different, but all are subject to the same goal of investing money to gain a profit in return. “The various business activities involved are about as different as they could be, but all involve the investment of money in order to make a profit, the essential feature of capitalism.” (Fulcher 14) The question arises as to why leaders follow the acts of capitalism, knowing its unethical practices. One can hypothesize that it is for one’s values to dominate in society. This can be seen in how leaders supported the idea of slavery and stripped African Americans of their rights, especially when stated in the constitution (changed after ratifying the 13th amendment). I also find it interesting how in history, many sought rare goods. However, in the modern-day fashion industry or overall, teens tend to follow trends to the point of ignoring ethical practices. Teens today shop from SheIn, namely, one of the most unethical and unsustainable brands. This topic catches my eye as I am heavily invested in the sustainable fashion industry. It would be intriguing to look into the history of fashion and textiles to see what drew this change.
This reading follows the idea of Capitalism and the different forms seen throughout history. Merchant Capitalism was the earliest form where profit was made from trading scarce products across long distances. One of the downsides of this was that it “required a heavy investment of capital in the expectation of large profits”(Fulcher 4). The second form was Capitalist production, which relied largely on wage labour to make profit. The third form of Capitalism mentioned in the reading is Industrial capitalism. It was similar to capitalist production but was a little more advanced. All of these had pros and cons but are still seen in our capitalist society. Today, the whole economy has become dependent on investment of capital to prosper, we don’t just rely on trade, but production as well.
Before I didn’t really understand what was involved when it came to capitalism. I knew what it entailed yet couldn’t grasp the concept and connect it to the issues we face in our economy today. This reading gave me more insight on it and shed light to the injustices that were seen back then and actually still prevalent now. For example, The exploitation of workers in the cotton mill company around 1839. By that time the industry had around 1,815 mills, which would later increase even more. This meant that they would need a lot of workers to manage the machines and because they needed a heavy amount of profit, the workers had to operate day and night. Most of the labour was “cheap child labour and at times nearly half of those employed were under the age of 16″(Fulcher 5). It progressively got worse when the ages began to start lower to 7 year olds working from 6:00 am to 7:30 pm. Although wage labour is considered “free”, it’s also “unfree” in a sense because when one lives in a capitalist society, it’s almost impossible to survive without paid work. Not to mention in early capitalist society there were very little job opportunities available which may have led to employer manipulation and in this case inhumane acts like child labour. We don’t see child labour today but there are still workers being paid way less than they should for the long shifts they take to make capital for large companies or institutions. My new attained knowledge on capitalism really changed the way I viewed this part of American history because I feel it’s wrong to mainly depend of wage labour for our economy to flourish. New ways should be found instead of making people think paid work is the only way to provide for themselves and their families.
From the text, written by Fulcher, we gain a deeper understanding of the history of capitalism, the pros and cons, and its lasting effects on society and the economy. There are different forms and types of Capitalism; they each affect how the world operates. Futcher describes the three forms with a detailed historical background to explain his points. We first are made aware that capitalism sparked in the early 1600s with Merchant capitalism which is one of the early forms of capitalism. Merchant capitalism established international competition. Futcher then explains the second form of capitalism, Capitalist production, by illustrating how James M’Connel and John Kennedy blossomed in the cotton industry. Within this industry came harsh labor conditions which lead to strikes and protest movements. Lastly, Financial capitalism- investing in things such as stocks, which has grown in popularity over the years.
Futcher concludes with how each form of capitalism “involves (s) the investment of money to make a profit”. (page 14) Recently there has been a peak of interest in stock markets, investing, and learning more about the economy in general. It is interesting to see how capitalism and trading goods grew from the 1600s to now and all of the changes that have occurred all the way. What’s fascinating to me in the chapter is how the concept of employees started, from abused wage laborers, who were mainly children, to paid and protected employees. Of course, there are still unfair jobs but it is not as much as before. One key difference is that people are not working in harsh unfair conditions for long periods. There are now laws and organizations preventing business owners from doing so. Back then you were just a slave getting paid the bare minimum. All of these roles are significant to the growth of capitalism. How can we continue to change the rules of capitalism?
The passage “American Slavery American Freedom” by Mogran describes Slavery in the year 1619, and the reasons behind it. In 1619, the first African enslaved people were brought to Virginia on a ship. Many innocent people were stacked into the ship and placed head to toe with thousands of other people. There were men, women, and even young boys. Everyone was categorized, tied up, and left without any food or water. Many were sick, and many died. Those poor people went through something unimaginable and were treated as animals. The author, Mogran, proceeds to explain in the first few paragraphs the reason why Virginia did such a thing. There was a demand for tobacco in England and Virginia needed as many men as possible for this labor. The captured enslaved people worked mostly on tobacco fields in severe and harsh conditions. They worked from sunrises to sunsets and were often punished by their masters for the slightest mistakes. They were put through impossible labor in horrifying conditions with a lack of food, clothes, shelter, and basic necessities. Morgan states, “ It had, and although Virginians were not at all happy about it, throughout the century they kept crying for more. They wanted men, they could not get enough of them. (pg 295)”. This line is very significant because it shows how Virginians were very stubborn and just wanted servants to do labor for them, even if it wasn’t needed. Virginians first wanted servants; however there was a huge lack of them and many were declining the offer, so Virginia quickly switched over to salvery and took advantage of the poor. Morgan also states, “ It is possible that the conversion to slavery in Virginia was helped, as it was in Barbados, by a decline in the number of servants coming to the colony. (pg 299)”. This line shows that there was a lack of servants coming to the colony and that is why they had to turn to slavery. Throughout the passage there were many insights on Virginia and their thought process, but what stood out to me the most was the fact that African people were not enslaved because of their race. Virginians had to make a decision whether to keep the people or not and that had nothing to do with race. This stood out to me because to me the idea of salvery always associated with racism. However, in this passage the author makes sure that we’re not mistaken and that racism wasn’t the main ingredient to slavery. Overall, this was a very informative reading that made me learn much more information about salvery and made me see it from a different point of view.
An economic system that benefits both consumers and producers will go through many trials and errors to form. At a time where different parts of the world still relied on a trading system in order to gain, capitalism started to take off in Europe. James Fulcher talks about the history of capitalism when it began to pick up speed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fulcher breaks down his first chapter by discussing types of capitalism, production, its effects on workers, and famous cases of businessmen trying to use the system to their advantage.
To start off, Fulcher defines capitalism as a system where money is spent in order to gain money in the future. Take for instance the cotton industry in the 1830’s, companies invested in more cotton mills because they saw more consumer interest arise in their product at the time. Thus, they knew they would need more space and workers to make more cotton to sell more products. However I found it very appalling when those same workers at the cotton mill were pushed past the point to where they caused an uproar. The workers were underpaid, of young age, worked long hours and soon replaced by automatic machinery. All these qualities pushed them to strike, protest, and walkout which eventually helped formulate work guidelines used today.
Their treatment was one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about throughout the text because I did not know Europeans in those times fought against mismanagement in their workplaces. I used to think that American workers, especially during the Second Industrial Revolution, were the only set of workers to rebel against straining work conditions. I originally thought protests such as the Steel Strike and Textile Workers Strike were the historical events that pushed for better wages, firm hours, and better treatment. But it was the European struggles that occurred 1-2 centuries before that opened the doors for leisure time, flexible work shifts, and discipline rules. From reading Fulcher’s text, it can be described to readers that the change in the work environment was a gradual change. Workers couldn’t just demand better conditions one day and get it the next, Fulcher says that it took months, even years. The revolt workers threw in opposition to their circumstances was just one effect capitalism had on its society it lived in. The employees who generate the product are a part of the economic system too, regardless if they’re consumers or the ones in charge.
In James Fultcher’s “Capitalism a Very Short Introduction,” the text illuminates the fact that capitalism was part of the founding ideas that ended up being one of the founding principles that the Americas were built on. No matter the ethics of the situation capitalism will always end up working against the means of the worker instead of for the worker. By definition capitalism is “essentially the investment of money in expectation of making a profit.” In the case of Fulcher’s writing this is exactly how the colonization and capitalistic ideals were spread through the United States. Both capitalism and imperialism can be compared based on the rising ideals of the companies and countries in order to make large profits. As in the case of The East India Company it was evident that the traveling was based entirely on the confidence of the investors that they were going to be able to make the voyage and make it back. First, nobody really cared about the working conditions of these people because in the investors mind their only problem was growing their money. Secondly, disregarding the ethics of the situation and only looking at the financial risks, this expedition was very risky for the investors. Even if they sent out multiple ships in order to minimize the risk of losing one of them it still was an increasing amount of risk.
Touching on the situation of labour in the New World it shows how unethical the process of Capitalism was during this era. Between slavery, indentured servants, and child labour, companies were for anyway to produce “cotton” because it was such a profitable process they were looking passed the ethics in order to produce the money possible. Again if the head man is making money, ethics are often looked over. Kids “as young as 7… worked from 6:00 in the morning until 7:30 at night” and even though there are now new regulations it shows how unethical capitalism can be. Still today there are arguments about “keeping the wage bill down” in order to expose the worker and increase profits. In my mind it is amazing how people can still consider the ethics of the situation where people are working for under a reasonable living wage and disregarding it. While capitalism obviously does have its benefits like the creation of leisure, there obviously are relationships to 1600/1700’s capitalism to today’s capitalism like the exploitation of the worker, but the ethics of it has began to increase with the gradual elimination of slavery and child labor.