Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Fulcher’s “Capitalism a Very Short Introduction”

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.


One thought on “Fulcher’s “Capitalism a Very Short Introduction””

  1. Good job, although it seems to me that Fulcher’s discussion says relatively little about capitalism in the United States per se. Instead, what was the role of the Americas, or New World generally, in bringing about the rise of what he calls Merchant Capitalism? How does thinking about the history of capitalism from a global perspective help us understand its origins and development in context?

    I’m sympathetic to your concerns about ethics and the exploitation of workers; but is there a way to reconcile the profit motive with a more ethical treatment of workers, or is capitalism inherently exploitative? Your point about the demise of slavery and child labor at the end—which helpfully indicates change over time—seems to suggest the former, but maybe we should withhold judgment for now?

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