BUSINESS IN AMERICAN LIFE: A History by Thomas C. Cochran


Email this review


In his introduction, Professor Cochran seems to sincerely believe that the fact of ""cultivation of pragmatic or businesslike values"" over three centuries of American life is a striking new historical discovery. In each of four sections (""Heritage,"" 1607-1775; ""Transition,"" 1775-1850; ""Industrialism,"" 1850-1915; and ""Affluence,"" 1915-1970), Cochran finds that business has indeed influenced American social relations, religion, culture, communications, childrearing, professions, and politics. The colonial lack of feudal obstacles to business innovation is stressed; later we see traders become manufacturers, slavery as a business, state and local financial aid to business, and the businessman's expanding sociopolitical clout. But ""business"" remains a metaphysical entity constantly injecting itself into history, since Cochran avoids serious economic analysis: Hamilton's funding of the national debt for instance receives a one-paragraph mention. Industrialization brings rapid-fire mention of robber barons, municipal corruption, business lawyers, labor turmoil, regulatory legislation, overseas perspectives, business sponsorship of education, and the emergence of a managerial elite. A vast amount of American history is dealt with in glancing blows, and the concluding section ventures debatable assertions such as a theory that the great wave of CIO unionism would not have occurred without federal labor legislation like that ""extreme measure,"" the Wagner Act; and Cochran briefly expounds the threadbare view that business, which he equates with the National Association of Manufacturers and the right-wing Liberty League, fought the New Deal tooth and nail. Cochran is Benjamin Franklin Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and President of the American Historical Association, affiliations which might gain the book a specialized audience, though it makes no new contribution.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1972
Publisher: McGraw-Hill