Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #1

“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.

One thought on “Blog Post #1”

  1. A very clearly-written post. Since you focus on Fulcher’s discussion of what he calls Merchant Capitalism, I might push you to think a little deeper about some of the other innovations he mentions, not only stock exchanges but joint stock companies, monopolies, warehousing, etc. How did these innovations in turn give rise to a “consumer revolution” and a new political economy based on market relationships?

    I would also urge you to think as much about what has changed since the rise of 17th century capitalism as what hasn’t. If “capital invested to make profit” is a necessary and essential definition of capitalism, is it a sufficient one? In other words, how do the different phases of development Fulcher describes add to or refine this definition, and how does that help us understand how we got to the capitalistic society we live in today?

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