Politics and American Business: Adversaries or Allies?

Are business and government allies or adversaries? What is the proper relationship between the two? These questions are important issues for the upcoming presidential, congressional, and state elections. They are also the subject of my new book, Politics and American Business: The Growth of Industrial America, 1860-1960, just published by WingSpan Press. The book is now available for orders at Amazon.com and BN.com in both soft cover and electronic versions. The electronic version is also available on other sites selling ebooks.

In researching and writing this book, I have drawn on my more than 40 years of experience representing businesses in litigation and counseling, as well as on my seven years of teaching American History at the University of Pennsylvania and Chestnut Hill College. My teaching experience showed me that the previous books typically assigned in survey courses on American History placed too little attention upon the proper relationship between politics and business, tending to demonize business and failing to appreciate its importance to the economic vitality of this country.

We outline in this book exactly how government can either assist, or hinder, the appropriate growth of American businesses. We identify five critical factors which recur over history, including alternating cycles of regulation and deregulation; the critical importance of infrastructure; the impact of armed conflicts as a business stimulant; the government role in funding and protecting technology; and the key importance of providing ready access to the courts to protect business from excessive and unwarranted regulation.

By focusing on the time period from the Civil War to the Cold War, it is possible to identify the political and other factors which contributed to the United States assuming worldwide industrial dominance in that time period. We bring this analysis up to date in the Conclusion, pointing out how, in several critical respects, current governmental policy has fallen short. As such, attention to the five key factors we identify is highly relevant to evaluating the respective platforms of the various political parties in this important election year.

The book begins with a review of how the Civil War removed the obstacles placed by the Southern Slave Power on the development of industry in the country, tracing how the Republican Administrations in the latter part of the 19th century facilitated industrial growth by imposing tariffs and building infrastructure, particularly in railroads. We then examine the opposition to business dominance of politics by the Populists, and then by the Progressive Movement, which inaugurated tighter regulation on business growth and operations.

The height of regulation of business during this time period was reached during the three full terms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, particularly in legislation enacted in his First and Second New Deals. Roosevelt instituted what has now become the Administrative State, under which business is heavily regulated by alphabet agencies which promulgate detailed regulations constraining business operations.

The book also details how wars and defense spending have had the incidental effect of assisting industrial development by creating new markets, by facilitating technological improvements, and by increasing employment. We examine the relationship between government and business in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, detailing how the need to enlist business in the war effort softened government regulation and greatly improved business profitability, as well as fueling government expenditures to fund research leading to development of materials to assist in prosecuting wars. These same developments would later be utilized by businesses, including IBM, Google, and Apple, to create new products and to expand operations.

Finally, the book examines in detail how legislation protecting all varieties of intellectual property, including patents and trade secrets, as well as providing ready access by business entities to the courts as a safety valve against oppressive regulation, have both been critical factors in protecting business in this country.

Politics and American Business provides a concise treatment of an important subject. It is a work written for a general audience, totaling slightly under 200 pages of text, with an additional Chronology and References for Further Reading. If you work in or own a business, or are involved in politics, you will gain new insights into the proper role of government when it legislates in areas affecting the growth and health of American businesses.




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