A cavalcade of capitalism celebrating the machinery of wealth while cautioning that Americans “have also insisted upon their democratic right to curb its excesses.”
The United States, writes media entrepreneur Srinivasan, who emigrated from India when he was 8, has long resembled one big construction zone, building and (creatively) destroying in an endlessly volatile cycle. This book, critically yet enthusiastically pro-market—which is interesting given that the author’s mentor is the noted leftist historian Richard White—charts that course. As the author notes at the beginning, the Puritans who arrived on the Mayflower did not come from out of the blue but instead were the product of venture capital sustained by the necessity of borrowing from outside at interest rates of more than 50 percent. They got out from under their investors’ yoke, finally, by buying the creditors out. The fact of slavery casts a shadow on Srinivasan’s generally positive account, but he brings a fresh view to the matter, positing that the market irrationally and wrongly valued the slave economy as being worth much more than it was, so that by the time of the Civil War, “there was more to protect and more to lose” on the part of Southern slaveholders. The author is particularly insightful on cycles of technological revolution, as with Andrew Carnegie’s innovations as a steel baron and the rise of the automobile industry; who knew that Henry Ford dismissed his first efforts as “merely a money-making concern” without the necessary contribution to the common good? Spryly and with just the right amount of circumstantial detail, Srinivasan places all this against the context of his own history in America. Through his initiation in the startup world, he writes, “the energy of the era, the wildness of the boom, the ease with which an idea, a blank canvas, could turn into something confirmed my central belief about opportunity in America.”
A smart, accessible contribution to the nation’s economic history.