Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States

Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States

by Jonathan Levy

A leading economic historian traces the evolution of American capitalism from the colonial era to the present—and argues that we’ve reached a turning point that will define the era ahead. Levy reveals how capitalism in America has evolved through four distinct ages and how the country’s economic evolution is inseparable from the nature of American life itself. “Wealth is power, and power is wealth. The aphorism commonly attributed to the Englishman Thomas Hobbes, author of the great political philosophical treatise Leviathan (1651), was later invoked by Adam Smith in the greatest treatise ever written on commerce, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith was a Scot, not an American, but up until 1776, Scots and Americans shared something in common: both were subjects of the British Empire. In the Age of Commerce, empire and capitalism grew up together.” The Age of Commerce spans the colonial era through the outbreak of the Civil War, and the Age of Capital traces the lasting impact of the industrial revolution.

The volatility of the Age of Capital ultimately led to the Great Depression, which sparked the Age of Control, during which the government took on a more active role in the economy, and finally, in the Age of Chaos, deregulation and the growth of the finance industry created a booming economy for some but also striking inequalities and a lack of oversight that led directly to the crash of 2008. Jonathan Levy is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. His book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, won the Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Ellis W. Hawley Prize, and Avery O. Craven Award.

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