Essay on Capitalism in the USA During the Period 1900-1940 and Its Influence

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Capitalism had a significant economic and therefore social and political impact on United States society during the years 1919-1941. Capitalism is an economic system that encourages individuals to make profits through investments and the private ownership of goods, property and the means of production, distribution and exchange. Capitalism created economic prosperity for business and industry resulting in an increase in mass production as corporations were unregulated. Capitalism also sparked mass consumerism resulting in a rise in household monetary flow yet it hindered unskilled workers who were displaced due to technological developments. Capitalism also had an impact on the political spectrum, as the economic doctrine used to regulate the economy failed, which was a poor reflection on the Conservative government’s management of US society. Finally, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency incorporated aspects of capitalism which greatly contributed to the resurgence of the US society after the Great Depression as it promoted employment, infrastructure developments and stimulated the agricultural market. Capitalism had a significant impact on the United States during 1919-1941, which was predominantly visible within the economic, social and political aspects of society.

Capitalism had a major impact on the US economy during 1919-1929 as business and industry were able to prosper due to the economic policies implemented by the US government. The conservative governments of the 1920s under Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge undertook the economic doctrines Laissez-Faire and Trickle-Down Economics to stimulate the US economy and create wealth within society following World War One. America was a leader in the global economy throughout the 1920s as industry and businesses were unregulated. The US became a predominant global producer with 40% of the world’s automobiles and manufactured goods being produced within the US. Mass production rose substantially as labor production increased by 5.6% annually which was more than 5 times the rate of the 1910s. The amplified mass production rates of the 1920s allowed for businesses to develop and net income to increase sequentially as the price of commodities decreased. In 1922 the price of manufactured goods decreased by 41%, raw materials decreased by 45% and agricultural products decreased by 48%. The price decrease of commodities had a substantial effect on corporate profits as businesses were able to produce more goods at a lower cost. Capitalism created a monopoly which allowed 0.26% of all businesses to gain 60.3% of net corporate income which limited the chance for small upcoming businesses to gain wealth. Businesses such as Ford dominated their markets as they were able to produce cheap and reliable products to consumers. From this, these businesses were able to expand greatly both nationwide and internationally post the 1920s prosperity. However, the business prosperity was unevenly distributed throughout the workforce, as despite real income increasing by 25% from 1922-29, corporate profits exceeded that rate by 200%. The gap between the rich and the poor was augmented as the economic doctrine of trickle-down economics failed as the distribution of net profits was corrupted by business owners who gained wealth through the lack of government intervention. Capitalism sparked economic prosperity for US industry, however due to the uneven distribution of profits, the gap between the wealthy and the poor increased.

Similarly, capitalism had a significant positive social impact as it helped develop a consumerist culture within the United States. New domesticated technological developments including vacuum cleaners, electric toasters and washing machines ultimately saved time on domestic household duties which created leisure time opportunities. In 1929 one in five households owned an electric toaster and one in four owned a vacuum cleaner. From this, individuals had the opportunity to partake in leisurely activities including live sports and cinema. Over the 1920s, more than 20 thousand cinemas were constructed in the US and the quantity of tickets sold rose from 40 million per week in 1922 to 115 million in 1930. Live sport was extremely popular as by the end of the 1920s the National Football League’s gate takings rose to $21 million per annum. In 1929, 50% of American families owned an automobile due its inexpensive manufacturing and therefore affordable pricing. This significantly impacted the lives of Americans as automobiles provided a greater access to rural and remote communities along with contributing to the process of urbanization and suburbanization. Employment opportunities arose as people were able to commute to the inner-city work and be able to live in the suburban areas where land was cheaper. Automobiles also increased the opportunity for differing recreational activities including distant holiday destinations and the development of shopping centres. One of the most outstanding impacts of capitalism in the US during 1919-1941 was the emergence of consumerism. Due to the rise of real income and the introduction of credit, people were able to afford more nonessential goods and services as they had disposable income. Spending became a pleasurable activity and encouraged conformity in regards to clothing, food and household items. Conspicuous consumption became a facet of society as people would often purchase items and use them as an indicator for their social status and wealth. George Tindall and David Shi describe the culture shift as the “old time values of thrift and saving gave way to a new economic ethic that made spending a virtue” (Tindall and Shi, 1984 pg.372). Capitalism brought significant technological developments which assisted everyday activities along with transforming the lifestyle opportunities of Americans and redefining the purpose of purchasing commodities.

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In contrast, capitalism had a devastating impact on the vulnerable groups of society as there was a decline in union membership and technological developments displaced workers. After the strike defeats of 1919-23, US union membership declined by 25% which left the working class underrepresented. The radical decline of union membership was the outcome of economic prosperity in businesses and industry as both anti-union views were evident in both employers and the government making organized strikes almost impossible to execute. In 1919, 21% of workers participated in a total of 3600 strikes in an attempt to increase workers’ rights, however in 1929 only 1.2% of the workforce participated in 900 strikes across the United States. The economic prosperity of the 1920s resulted in stable pricing, a reduction in unemployment and the rise of real income, causing a major decline in union membership. This left the working class underrepresented and due to the lack of union support from both the government and the employers, employees often faced threats and termination if they were to participate in pro union activities. The development of new technologies resulted in the displacement of many factory and agricultural workers as their skills were replaced by machinery. In 1929, the rate of labor hours decreased by 40% since 1921 simultaneously resulting in a high job seeking population. Through both the decline in union membership and the high displacement of workers, the divide between the rich and the poor increased substantially with the wealthiest 5% of society earning more national income than the bottom 60%. Capitalism heightened the inequality within the US as the vulnerable factions of society were underrepresented and faced technological displacement within the workforce.

Furthermore, capitalism impacted the political functioning of the United States during the interwar period as conservative economic policies failed leading to The Great Depression. Calvin Coolidge along with Harding and Hoover believed “The chief business of the American people is business”. The conservative governments of the 1920s assumed that lack of government intervention through Laissez-faire would significantly benefit the US economy and its population. Through this approach, ideally businesses are able to have freedom to take risks and are able to maximize profits, from this the wealth is able to be transferred to the lower classes through the Trickle-down effect. However, the doctrine failed as the gap between the wealthy and the poor was enlarged, the Conservatives lost their power over the US which subsequently resulted in the Great Depression. The conservative government’s lack of intervention within the US economy resulted in the rise of small-scale banks. The McFadden Act 1927 allowed national banks to have unlimited access to various investment powers such as real-estate, stocks, deposits, loans and trust operations. The economic freedom given to US banks enabled by the capitalist government had detrimental effects on their political power as by 1929, 50% of the nation’s financial resources were controlled by 1% of America’s banks. The conservative government also implemented lower taxes for personal and business income in an attempt to weaken the power of unions across the US. By reducing union membership, the Conservatives lost contact with the working class as they were underrepresented within the workforce who were the majority of their supporters during the 1921 election against the Democrats. The conservative government essentially brought their own end to their presidential reign as they weren’t able to act in accordance to the economic chaos of the Great Depression. Hoover’s successor F.D. Roosevelt (1932) proclaimed his presidency “well, this will elect me”, before he won the 1932 election 57.4% to 39.7% due to the poor economic doctrines imposed by the conservative government. The capitalist approach to governing had a significant impact as the economic doctrines caused political change within the United States, therefore causing economic and social distress.

Despite the apparent changes made, F.D. Roosevelt’s presidency still had evident capitalist intentions which had an impact on the functioning if the US between the years of 1933-1941. During FRD’s presidency, there were numerous attempts to stimulate the economy by implementing capitalist initiatives from the New Deal to combat the Great Depression. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) 1933 played a significant role in stimulating the agricultural market. The AAA imposed a domestic allotment that would assign a quota to each famer to reduce over production and to increase the demand for agricultural products. This capitalist approach stimulated the agricultural market by limiting the surplus of agricultural commodities which enhanced the demand for agricultural products and increased the income of large-scale properties. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a project based in the west aimed to rebuild the Miami to Key West railroad. This ultimately brought jobs and tourism to the Western States who suffered significantly due to urbanization as for the first time in American history more people lived in cities compared to rural areas. The 1933 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was implemented to increase the production and sale of electrical power across the state. The control of the electrical power was contracted with privately owned businesses who were sold to wholesaler for distribution. The low electricity rates generated by the TVA were due to the TVA’s tax immunity and how it was not compulsory for the TVA to publish its revenue on its operations. The capitalistic facets of Roosevelt’s presidency stimulated the agricultural market, generated employment and constructed new infrastructure which had a key impact on the rebuilding of the economic and therefore social and political chaos that arose from the Great Depression.

Capitalism had a significant impact on all areas of US society during the interwar period. The economic prosperity of the 1920s allowed businesses and industry to advance as the economic doctrines enforced catered for mass production and therefore converted the US into a consumerist society. Socially, capitalism transformed the everyday American’s lifestyle as consumerism provided the opportunity for leisure, along with the development of automobiles which enabled long distance travel to occur. The decline in union membership and technological developments hindered American society as many unskilled workers were left unemployed. The economic doctrines imposed by the conservative government proved detrimental to their campaign, however FDR’s incorporate of capitalism stimulated the failing economy along with providing employment opportunities and infrastructural developments across the US. Therefore, the impact of capitalism during the years of 1919-1941 proved to be significant in regards to the economic, social and political spectrum of the United States of America.

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