The Profit Ethic as Conservative

The Profit Ethic as Conservative

The Profit Ethic as Conservative in the Age of Enterprise

The profit ethic was accepted readily in America during the 1880s and 1890s. Industrial capitalism emerged triumphant in this period America was transformed into an urban and industrial society.

Changes brought about in the economy by industrialization were transmitted to every other area of life. The entrepreneurs who led in the march into industrialism were national folk heroes. Business values and objectives attained an all-time high of social acceptance. It was generally agreed that the business of America was to create wealth.

This orientation led to an emphasis on materialism unparalleled in America, either before or since the Age of Enterprise. Materialistic values were so strongly in evidence that Mark Twain called this era the Gilded Age.

The Industrial Revolution began in America at about the beginning of the nineteenth century. Merchants who had prospered during the wars between England and France supplied much of the capital to build factories. The infant industries which grew up were protected from foreign competition by European wars and protective tariffs.

Railway construction in the 1840s and 1850s and the Civil War in the 1860s stimulated manufacturing tremendously and laid the foundation for large-scale industrial activity in the Age of Enterprise. Men who were to later become the captains of industry-J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller, among others-established the basis of their fortunes and corporate and financial empires during the war. Following the war manufacturers rapidly expanded output to supply a national market swollen by immigration, a market that grew from 25 million people in 1850 to over 60 million in 1890.

The captains of industry deserve much of the credit for the rapid rate of industrialization in the Age of Enterprise. They were a hard-driving, daring, and ambitious group of men. They were not as polished as the managers of today, either in their manners or ethics. They tended to be crude, grasping, and egocentric. On the other hand, they were important agents of change. Without them, America would never have been able to accomplish its miracle of industrialization so rapidly. Therefore, it is not fair to call these men "robber barons." They operated in a period when a vast continent was being organized into a complicated industrial complex. Society set no rules for them to follow in this endeavour, so they made up their own as they went along.

A peculiar version of laissez faire prevailed in America during the Age of Enterprise: that government should not regulate or control business in any way but should do whatever possible to aid business. Tariff policy after the Civil War was extremely favourable to business. A series of tariff acts increased the average wartime rate of duties to 47 percent by 1864. This was supposed to be a temporary wartime measure, but tariffs were pushed even higher by the McKinley Act of 1890, the Dingley Act of 1897, and the Payne-Aldrich Act of 2009. Government also aided business by grants of land and other natural resources. The railroads were given 158 million acres of land, and large lumber companies circumvented - -1- the Homestead Act to gain control of valuable timber lands. The government also aided business by refraining from setting up regulatory commissions, by not passing legislation to protect labour, and by placing little or no restriction upon the uninhibited exploitation of economic opportunities by the captains of industry and financial tycoons.


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