How/When Did US Become a Rat Race?

Just wondering… I don’t recall our forefathers making capitalism part of the foundation of the USA. So, how did all this evolve into the US becoming such a capitalistic society? Was it the invention of the railroads that started a whole new age when, I suppose, the pace of life got kicked up a notch? Even broader than the railroads, is it the price of the industrial revolution on American living?

Can we pinpoint how/when capitalism evolved in America?

  • Jinx

Here is an overview from Encarta:

I’m betting it had somethign to do with the country being founded with such an open frontier. Giving rise to ideas like: “You can make it happen.” “Every man for himself.” “You snooze you lose.” and my fave, “Take what you can and keep it for yourself!”

Capitalism was most definitely a part of America since the beginning. Of course they didn’t call it capitalism. Adam Smith invented the term in The Wealth of Nations which he published in 1776.

But even without having a name for it, the founding fathers knew all about it. Some of them admittedly inherited wealth so they were more likely to take it for granted (like Washington who was one of the wealthiest man in the United States). But others, like Franklin and Hamilton, were self-made men and their writings make numerous references to how they made their money.

Washington didn’t inherit the bulk of his wealth: he married it.

Don’t forget. Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence said that man’s inalienable rights included “life, liberty and property.” The “pursuit of happiness” came in later drafts.

Lib’s link credits Marx with the term:

Well, we have this that credits Adam Smith for at least contributing to capitalism. whether it’s in the book or not, I don’t know.

If you want to check it out, here’s the text of Smith’s book.

Capitialism is directly derived from Physiocracy, a school of economic thought that arose in France in the 1750’s. Physiocracy held that there existed a natural order in economics, one that didn’t require direction from the state for people to be prosperous. According to the physiocrats, productive activities such as agriculture, fishing, and mining produce a surplus or net product. Other activities, such as manufacturing, do not produce new wealth but simply transform or circulate the output of the productive class. (A “productive activity” here and in the remainder of my post means simply that an activity that can produce wealth.)

Capitalism, as advanced by Adam Smith, while still accepting the natural order and that markets would function most efficiently when not controlled by goverments, on the other hand, he saw manufacturing as a productive activity. Smith opined endless possiblitites for the creation of wealth through the division of labor and extension of markets (provided of course, the phenomena were permitted to proceed apace according the “natural order” and governments kept their interference to a bare minimum). A current congruency is seen in the oft-noted “value-added” paradigm.
In the late 19th century, we see the rise of the modern corporation in America. Corporations, and remember most of these were manufacturing concerns at that time, were organized along the logical lines coincident with the principles of the division of labor - just as Smith described in the late 18th century. As the modern corporation became the dominant form of business, capitalism right along side it became the dominant economic system—the two marched in lockstep. This trend was amplified by the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1900s and simply swept away everything else.

So when did the US become ar Rat Race? Simultaneously with the Industrial Revolution.

Maybe the founding fathers were more into it than you suspect…

From the New York Times of August, 2001

It is known that Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton studied “The Wealth of Nations.”

An amusing anecdote that I picked up somewhere that does seem to have some basis in truth. On a global scale, Americans seem more concerned with relative wealth than absolute wealth. Thus, the “Keepin up with the Jones” factor is much stronger in the US which leads to the rat race conditions.

And that formulation came from Englishman John Locke who considered the right to private property was one the essentials to a free society.

I don’t know who Locke got it from.

You do realize that America was formed because a bunch of old white dudes didn’t want to pay taxes to England?

IIRC, it was Marx who popularized the term “capitalism”. Before Marx, such a specific term for the way things were economically at the time wasn’t really needed. Marx’s thesis was that the current system of capitalism was doomed because of internal contradictions, and that “communism” would be what replaced it. Marx didn’t just think communism was a good idea. He predicted it would happen eventually no matter what.

Oversimplifying things just a wee bit, aren’t we?

As for the OP, the rat race has long been part of the American culture, even before the revolution and founding of a new nation. Disgust at the rat race is also quite old. Moby Dick can, quite correctly, be read as a diatribe against this. Thoreau’s Walden (which, coincidently I am currently reading) also speaks against this mentality. This isn’t a new phenomenon.

I stand corrected. While Smith was describing what would later be called capitalism and used the word capital throughout his book, he did not invent the word capitalism.