Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #1

     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.


One thought on “Blog Post #1”

  1. I’m glad to see that this reading caught your interest, and that you were able to connect it to current-day issues and perhaps your own career aspirations. I would push you to think a bit more deeply about what changed over the long period that Fulcher describes in his overview. If the investment of money for profit is an “essential feature” of capitalism, does that mean it’s a sufficient definition by itself? What new features did each of the three phases add, and how did they contribute to the kind of capitalist society we live in today?

    A related point has to do with your concern for ethics. Is capitalism inherently unethical, as you seem to suggest in the last paragraph? If so, what can individuals—political figures, business owners, consumers—do about it? You note that young people consume “fast fashion” with little concern for the effects on workers or the environment, so does that mean it’s hopeless, or that perhaps it’s not strictly a matter of individual or consumer choice?

    I would welcome a research paper project that looks at workers or employers in the clothing industry over time—feel free to discuss via email or during office hour.

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