Characterized as anti-republican bastions of privilege and exclusion, advocated by supporters as associations that created economic opportunity and equality, the early business corporation in America “faithfully reflected the society that gave it form,” according to Pauline Maier. Ideological conflicts of the American Revolution—decisions about where power would reside, about regulation and control influenced the political and legal evolution of corporate structures.
In The Visible Hand, Alfred Chandler gives us a model of the rise of the modern business enterprise in the United States—a model constructed on technological determinism, propelled by the market, and creating a new agency: that of middle managers who oversaw production, distribution, communication, and all the various functions of the large corporation.
Every time the gold standard becomes a topic of discussion in a history class, my heart moves into doubletime, I speed read beyond paragraphs on Keynesian economics into socio-political-cultural text, and I hide under the desk to avoid having to speak. It’s crowded under there. I join a rather sizable group of historians and students of history with little or no background in economics, business, or finance.