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Wednesday, January 5, 2005


This is the 4th article in a mini-series on the unique nature of the US ideological spectrum, all part of a larger, far more ambitious series --- stretching back now, it seems, through 14 articles to the battle of Gettysburg --- on the innovative prowess of the US economy, always comparatively viewed. Thanks to that prowess, the US has been the richest country in per capita income for well over a century now . . . a lead that defies standard economic growth theory, in all its variants. Right now, at the end of 2004, the US is 55% or so richer than the EU average for West Europe; and since the British, French, Germans, and Italians have a per capita income roughly the same as that average --- Britain slightly richer than the others --- the US lead is especially vivid and startling, no other words for it. Japan's per capita income, come to that, is about that of the British, and hence the US lead over it is no less startling,

The articles on ideology are doubly relevant here to explaining this huge, surprisingly long-lasting US lead: in particular, they're part and parcel of an institutional and cultural approach that underpins the overall argument of the series on the US economy's innovative powers. Note: doubly relevant. How so?

  • The US lacks a statist-conservatism of the sort that is rife on the Continent of West Europe and in Japan . . . the dominant political parties there, for generations now, suspicious of free markets and capitalist competition of the sort Americans take for granted.

True, the British Conservative Party is an exception to this rule in Europe, but only in part: the Tory patrician wing, which extends back to the pre-democratic, pre-industrial period of the 17th century --- and was dominated by land-owning aristocrats right down to the start of the 20th century, decades after the vote was extended to the middle classes and the working classes --- had no trouble accommodating itself to the advanced welfare-and-regulatory state that the Labour Party created in Britain after 1945. That accommodation persisted until the 1980s. It helped, in the patrician and paternalistic circles of the Conservative Party, to stabilize British society and guarantee law-and-order . . . their major concerns historically (along with expanding British power and influence abroad). At that point, the party and Britain were turned topsy-turvy. Margaret Thatcher unleashed a 12 year free-market revolution in British life that earned her the enmity of not just the British radical left, but the Tory right in the Conservative Party as well.

Note that roughly similar observations apply to the Australian Liberal Party, that country's major right-wing party, in the era of John Howard . . . Prime Minister now since 1996 and recently re-elected about the same time as George Bush was here. Of course, the Liberal Party there had no patrician aristocratic wing. Australians had fled an aristocratic-dominated Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Still, the Liberal Party had little trouble accommodating itself to the large welfare-and-regulatory state that the Australian left created after 1945 --- at any rate, until the 1980s.

  • The US also lacks, on the left, a socialist or Marxist tradition that marks deeply the history of all the dominant left-wing parties in West Europe and Japan . . . to the extent one can even find an organized Japanese opposition party since the 1960s. The American left can draw on some radical and populist traditions, stretching back to Jefferson and in various trade union movements (especially the CIO and the miners, both organizing mass industrial workers and badly exploited mine workers early in the 20th century), but never a socialist heritage, let alone one marked by Marxist views of capitalism.

The nature and causes of the Republican Party's anti-statist ideology will be the subject of future articles in this mini-series. Right now, our task is to continue the analysis ---- started a couple of weeks ago --- that probes the various reasons for the unique nature of the American political left and its general indifference, historical and in the present, to a socialist, heavily statist way of organizing the US economy of the sort found West Europe today . . . despite some pro-market reforms in Germany and elsewhere to make the economies there more competitive.

And so, down to business

The nature and causes of the Republican Party's anti-statist ideology will be the subject of future articles in this mini-series. Right now, our task is to continue the analysis ---- started a couple of weeks ago --- that focuses on the US left: specifically, in order to sift out and explain the various reasons for its general indifference, historical and in the present, to a socialist, heavily statist way of organizing the US economy in the sense that prevails in West Europe or Japan. Yes even today . . . despite some pro-market reforms in Germany and elsewhere, it needs to be added, to make the economies there more competitive and vigorous.



A Brief Refresher of Where the Argument Was Left Hanging Fire: The First Two Influences Summarized

In a previous buggy article published on December 16th, 2004, two major economic influences that shaped the American ideological spectrum on the left were discussed at length:

  • An unusually high standard of living, with the US the richest country in the world in per capita income for well over a century now.

  • And, more to the point, an unusually high real wage in the US early on, compared even to Britain when that country, the industrial pioneer, was much richer in per capita income. More specifically, the average wage earned by unskilled labor in the US was double the British wage in 1830, and still almost 60% higher in 1914 despite a mass outflow of poor people from Britain and Europe in the interval, nearly 40 million people, most of it to the US itself.

Note that the startling American lead in living standards hasn't been fully closed by the EU or Japan in the 90 years that have elapsed since then. On the contrary, it is still huge, with the US now enjoying about a 55% higher per capita income than the EU or Japan at the end of 2004.

You want more evidence?

Here's some that is especially vivid. Two Swedish economists study noted recently that if any of the four big EU countries --- Britain, France, Germany, or Italy --- were suddenly to join the U.S. federation, each would be the fifth poorest of the existing 50 states, ranking just ahead of Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Montana, and tied with Oklahoma: all five of these, note with care, overwhelmingly rural states and far below average American per capita income. Tiny Sweden itself (9 million people) would be the 7th poorest state. The second richest EU country --- tiny Denmark (4 million) --- would be the 10th poorest, and Ireland with 4 million people too and the highest EU living standard would rank 14th among the poorest U.S. states.


A Third Economic Influence:
Unusual Land Ownership in the 19th Century

Huge as the gap between West Europe and the US happened to be in living standards and wages, what stands out even more strikingly, is the difference in land ownership. In 1830 --- at a time when the US was overwhelmingly an agricultural country --- 80% of the American population owned and worked the land for their livelihood. Nothing like it had ever been seen before in history.

Just how great the differences in land ownership were on the two sides of the Atlantic are brought more vividly in the following table.

1830 1880
USA France England Scotland Ireland Belgium Netherlands
80% 60% 15% 8% 4% 36% 60%
Sources: Tom Bottomore, Classes in Modern Capitalism and Johan F.M. Swinnen The Political Economy
of Institutional Change
Observe that land ownership for the US is in 1830, more or less the year when Tocqueville made his famous journey around the country. For West Europe, the year is 1880 . . . mainly because the buggy prof, after an hour's search on google, couldn't find figures for European countries any earlier. Even in France and Holland --- where the Napoleonic Code had been applied to absentee landlords (either executed or in exile during the French Revolutionary period) and land seized by the state, then sold over time to the peasantry --- land ownership was no doubt far more concentrated in 1830. As for Spain, Portugal, Germany, all of East Europe, the Ottoman Empire's European holdings, and Czarist Russia, land ownership was even more heavily in the hands of a small oligarchy than in the countries found in the table, except for Ireland.



The consequences were numerous and far-reaching. Needless to say, we're interested here in those that affected the development of American politics on the left. In particular . . .

Mass American Attitudes Toward Private Property Insulated The Average Farmer and Worker Against The Appeals of Socialism and Marxism Later On, Even in Hard Times

Private property ownership underpins a middle class in every free society not dominated by statist totalitarian controls. Extensive private property underpins an extensive middle class, broadly viewed in ownership terms --- not Marxist notions of an exploited working class, whether blue-collar or later white-collar. In turn, a solid democratic political system rests on a large middle class . . . virtually the entire American population, either in outright property ownership (69% of Americans own their homes, the highest figure in our history) or in aspiration to it. This is the case, observe, even though the farmer himself has largely disappeared from the American workplace: down from 90% or so of the working population in the early 19th century to 2.0% these days.


European Views

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, European visitors or immigrants were immediately struck by the egalitarian distribution of land in America --- understood in strictly comparative terms with Europe and the rest of the world at the time --- with all that followed from it. It left the average American worker, native-born or immigrant, indifferent to socialist and Marxist appeals of any form.

As far back as 1782, right at the end of the revolution with Britain, a French immigrant to the US, Hector de St. Jean Crevecoeur, noted the significance of vast land ownership for the average American.

The instant I enter on my own land, the bright ideas of prosperity, of exclusive right, of independence exalt my mind. Precious soil, I say to myself, by what singular custom of law is it that thou wast made to constitute the riches of the freeholder? What should we American farmers be without the distinct possession of that soil? It feeds, it clothes us, from it we draw even a great exuberance, our best meat, our richest drink, the very honey of our bees comes from this privileged spot.

No wonder we should thus cherish its possession, no wonder that so many Europeans who have never been able to say that such portion of land was theirs, cross the Atlantic to realize that happiness. Thus formerly rude soil has been converted by my father into a pleasant farm, and in return it has established all our rights; on it is founded our rank, our freedom, our power as citizens.

That was, to repeat, in 1782. A half century later --- after the vast revolutionary upheavals that shook France and the rest of Europe in the 1790s, then during the Napoleonic period until 1815, and again in the wave of revolution that rattled France and parts of Europe in 1830 --- another, far better known French, Alexis de Tocqueville, noted why the United States was immune to such revolutionary turmoil . . . to the extent that it was due to vast economic inequalities.

"In no other country in the world is the love of property keener or more alert than in the United States, and nowhere else does the majority display less inclination toward doctrines which in any way threaten the way property is owned."

Tocqueville went further. He found the core of American democracy and a commitment to equality --- both unique at the time --- in the vast extent of free land, a large thriving class of independent property-owning farmers, and township government.


Sidebar Clarification: Another reason for the lack of revolutionary turmoil in the US after 1789, the year our Constitution was signed and the French revolution began, was political.

In particular, the US had created a stable institutional framework --- federal government, a separation of powers, court monitory of the executive and legislature at all levels --- that has remained intact, for all the changes in the interval (including a breakdown in the Civil War of the 1860s), over the last 200 years. Tocqueville knew how important politics were here, something we'll also see. He observed in his classic study of American democracy in the 1830s that democracy and the federal system in the US were unique at the time, compared above all with Europe:

"The political existence of the majority of the nations of Europe commenced in the superior ranks of society and was gradually and imperfectly communicated to the different members of the social body. In America, on the contrary, it may be said that the township was organized before the country, the country before the state, the state before the union."

What Tocqueville couldn't foresee was that in the same 200 years that have roughly gone by since both the French revolution and the creation of our federal union, France has experienced 15 entirely different political systems: four of them, please note, in the lifetime of prof bug since his birth in 1939. Or that all of West, East, and Southern Europe would turn fascist in the 1930s and early 1940s, with the exception of the tiny Scandinavian countries, Holland, Belgium, and Britain --- all evolutionary constitutional monarchies --- and tiny neutral Switzerland, at a time of course when the Soviet Union was Communist.

European history since the era of the French revolution and the industrial revolution, to put it bluntly, was full of violent upheavals and extremism right down until the end of 1945 in West Europe, and in the Soviet empire over East Europe and its satellite republics until 1991 . . . both halves in almost all these two centuries marked by intense class struggles and warfare, ethnic and racist violence, political revolution and counter-revolution, and fervent true-believing ideological conflicts. Political and ideological extremism and violence changed in West Europe after 1945 under a benevolent American protectorate, and then in most of East Europe only because the US and its allies stood firm against the Soviet totalitarian empire until, as George Kennan --- the father of containment predicted back in 1947 --- its inner contradictions would tear the empire apart, including right at its Russian core.


Mass Immigration after 1840 and the Frontier in the West

From the 1840s until the end of WWI, the US experienced vast waves of immigration out of Europe and to an extent China and Japan --- roughly, 30 million people. Most arrived after 1880, mainly because steamships made the Atlantic crossing far easier and cheaper. As for land, thanks to a new Homestead Act in the early 1860s, those immigrants who wanted could immediately claim 140 acres of land wherever it wasn't owned . . . which meant virtually all of the country west of the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast and in Alaska, and some still east of the Mississippi. In principle, the frontier was closed in the 1880s. In reality, even as the US was urbanizing and industrializing with rapid fervor by then, lots of free land in the Continental US remained available for homesteading for decades afterwards. Surprisingly, for the buggy prof, most federal lands turned out under the Homestead Act of 1862 to be given to new settlers after 1900! (This piece of info and some others about land distribution and economic development in the 19th century draw on a remarkably astute piece of scholarship --- thorough, lengthy, full of evidence, and very careful with its generalizations --- by Stuart M. Blumin, "The Social Implications of US Economic Development", in The Cambridge Economic History of the United States: Volume II, The Long Nineteenth Century, eds. Stanley Engerman and Robert Gallman, (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 813-865. Another illuminating chapter in there on these topics of agriculture and farmers is by Jeremy Atack et al, pp. 245-285. Immediately after it is another chapter of informative scholarship, pp. 285-329, on "Northern Agriculture and the Westward Movement" by Atack and his same colleagues. )

Jump ahead now to the 1950s and 1960s, when there were scarcely any farm workers left --- down from 40% of the US labor force in 1900 to 3.0% (now 2.0% or so). The impact of land ownership in shaping American attitudes toward capitalism and private property remained a powerful influence, only this time in the form of bursting suburban developments. In those two decades, European visitors would marvel at these updated versions homesteading: vast single-house developments within urban centers and ever expanding suburban areas far out from those centers, Americans preferring these in large number to urban centers . . . a trend that has accelerated rapidly since then.

Today, at the start of 2005, 69% of Americans own their residences, and most others aspire to housing ownership. The huge post-WWII surge in such ownership, it needs to be added, was due to relatively cheap land around urban centers, plus the 1930s' changes that allow homeowners to deduct mortgage payments (and state and local taxes on homes) from their federal taxes . . . a huge incentive to house and condo-buying.

A Sidebar Clarification A dazzingly brilliant 1971 film by Bo Widenberg, a Swedish director who used an outstanding group of Swedish actors --- especially Liz Ullman and Max von Sydow, stalwarts of Ingmar Bergman's well-known productions --- brings out the quest for land in vivid and dramatic form. Called The Emigrants, it's about several villagers from somewhere in impoverished Sweden of the 1840s who, desperate to escape their misery --- made all the more unbearable by the hard-squeeze of pitiless aristocratic landlords --- undertake the long hazardous journey across the Atlantic and then to Minnesota, where they find free land that, back in Sweden, would have instantly placed them in the plutocratic class . . . hundreds of rich forested acres each for the taking.

A 2nd Sidebar Note : the buggy prof's grandparents on his father's side --- Russian Jewish immigrants who fled not just poverty but vicious deadly pogroms in Czarist Russia and came to the US in 1906 --- ended up opening a small store in the same area where the Swedes immigrated in the Widenberg film.

Their customers, as it turned out, were almost all still Swedish-speaking or Chippewa Indians, and my dad grew up playing with the kids of both ethnic groups, speaking both Swedish and Chippewa as well as English and some Yiddish and Russian at home. He himself was given a Swedish first name, Ollie. Ultimately, the Chippewa leaders --- to reward my grandfather for being such a generous storekeeper, giving the tribal members credit to help them through difficult times and accepting wild rice found in the lake areas as payment --- made him an honorary chieftain. Prof bug eventually inherited the large photo of his grandfather decked out in his Indian head-dress and facial paintings, and I swear, he looks like the stereotypical Indian chieftain of Hollywood movies. The Chippewa, once a great warrior people, had been moved to northern Wisconsin and Minnesota from their native grounds in the Carolinas, and encountered the same problems that almost all the displaced Indian tribal nations did.

These days, things have improved. They have big-time gambling casinos and resorts on their home grounds in Wisconsin and Minnesota, no doubt flourishing and getting rich. Prof bug sometimes wonder whether he shouldn't travel there with the photo and demand his share of the business.

Hey guys, don't let the blonde hair fool you; I'm one of you. Yep; no fooling. Here's a photograph to prove my lineage. Images don't lie, do they?

Now, then, what exactly were last year's profits to be shared out?


Another European Visitor: Karl Marx and No American Socialism

Marx and Engels themselves, it's worth noting, grasped the implications of this unique American pattern of free land, the frontier, and mass property ownership for the fate of socialism in the US. They wrote it off as unlikely. Another related influence here in their views of the US: the unique nature of the American class-structure, comparatively viewed. In particular, what with Marx's and Engels' view of history as a dialectical struggle between new and old dominant classes --- the classes themselves shaped by the material forces of technology and shifting ownership of the dominant means of production in any one epoch --- they believed that the lack of a feudal heritage in the US prevented a sharply defined class-structure from emerging here.

Not that economic inequality didn't exist.

It did exist, obviously, even in the initial decades of the Republic into the Jacksonian age of the 1830s --- not to forget about 15% of the population, African-Americans who were enslaved in that period --- and what's more, it would increase as the US rapidly industrialized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By WWI and into the 1920s, the US had a plutocratic class whose command of wealth and income --- though not as great as their equivalents in Britain and France --- came close to rivaling them. (A very good study of this, with comparative charts and tables, is Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998. See the charts at the very end, especially the trends in the 20th century for the income received by the top 0.1% income-earners in Britain, France, and the USA)


Still, The Key Point Remains.

Aside from the slave-owning plantation owners in the South before the Civil War --- destroyed by the war's outcome --- there was ever equivalent in the USA to either a landowning aristocracy in the European sense or, oppositely, a European-style peasantry. And despite the growing inequality as the US industrialized --- something, it was claimed later by a Nobel prize-winning economist, Simon Kuznets (a professor whose seminar prof bug sat in on one time), would happen in the interval between a very primitive agrarian society and an advanced urbanized, well-educated society --- the best recent work on the subject ends, after detailing the growing inequalities of the 19th century and the political and social conflicts over them in US life, with these telling words:

"The dynamics of the US economy in the 19th century created a vigorous growing economy that attracted millions of immigrants. A high standard of living and rapid growth in that standard did not create an egalitarian society. Equality may be a more feasible outcome, though not a ncessary outcome, of a stagnant or less dynamic economy. [The Kuznets view.] An economy that attracts because of the opportunities it presents is more likely to create inequality as new participants enter, relocate, change occupations, and take risks to capture the opportunities before them.

Such was the case in the USA in the 19th century. It gave attractive opportunities and created inequality at the same time."[The source is Clayne Pope, "Inequality in the Nineteenth Century," The Cambridge Economic History of the United States, Volume II: The Long Nineteenth Century, chapter 3, p. 139.]

By contrast, serfdom wasn't abolished in east Germany (Prussia) until the late 1820s, and in Czarist Russia --- a huge empire sprawling over much of east Europe too --- until 1863, the same year the Emancipation Proclamation freed American slaves amidst a war that, for all intents and purposes, ended slavery for the first time in human history . . . that war and the British assault on the slave trade during and after the Napoleonic wars. (It does still exist, according to the Anti-Slave League, in some Arab countries. And freed black slaves were, in effect, pressured after 1865 in the South into tenant-farming for decades afterward.)

By contrast, the huge fortunes of magnates in the US after 1865 came from industrialization and modern finance, and many of them --- without rivals in Europe, like the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Vandervilts, and Stanfords --- gave away tremendous sums to create great universities or the US public library system (Carnegie) or research-oriented institutions like the Ford or Rockefeller Foundations that also provide funds for various social projects. Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, has continued this tradition with his own foundation that provides scholarship funds for tens of thousands of minority students to attend universities here.


Something else too.

As Gates name on this list suggests --- remember, he was a relatively poor drop-out from Harvard in the late 1970s --- there has been a big turnover in the names and relative standings of the American wealthy throughout the 20th century, even if some of the plutocratic families at the start of that century remain wealthy thanks to investment income. Americans in all income categories remain unusually generous, the wealthy included. As you'll also see in a later article in this series --- when we come to look at the social influences shaping American political ideologies --- charitable contributions in this country have no rival whatsoever in Europe. These days, Americans annually contribute over $650 per person to charities and educational institutions. The equivalent figure in the EU is $55. And since the vast majority of Americans don't itemize their federal or state tax forms, they aren't even getting a tax deduction for their contributions.


The Further Result? The Lack of a European or Latin American Form of Class Consciousness

To say much more about this now is to run ahead of our argument. We'll take it up in greater detail when we look, in the next article, at the various social influences in American history that worked against the emergence of a strong class-consciousness in US life --- including the fragmentation of the working population along ethnic and racial lines.

Suffice it to note one further European observer's view of this, a prominent German sociologist, Werner Sombart, in a widely read book of his published in 1905: Warum Gibt Es Kein Socialismus in Der Vereinigten Staaten , Why There's No Socialism in the USA. "Equality and Liberty" for American workers, he said, weren't "empty ideas and vague dreams as they are for the European working class." And so, "in America there's not the stigma of being the class apart that almost all European workers have about them." (The quotes are taken from Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marx, It Didn't Happen Here.)



Note the key term here: transitional.

Our argument is far from being finished, even the economic part of our analysis. As you'll see in the next article in this series, the ways in which other economic influences helped offset a socialist or Marxist appeal in American life will be examined farther and in detail, after which --- in later articles --- we'll switch focus and probe the various political, social, and cultural forces that further blocked a Marxist appeal in this country, much to the dismay and angry frustration of the radical left in academia these days.


The School of Resentment: The Radical Professoriat Adrift in Ideology in Understanding These Matters

Pity these scholars, part-and-parcel of what Richard Rorty --- the only scholar of great original thought to associate with the academic left until he grew disgusted with them --- calls the School of Resentment: semi-literate, full of self-righteous fury, and politically useless when it comes to making sense of the failure of socialism to take root in the US.

Can't be helped. The radical left in academia won't give up. Impervious to contrary evidence, it also refuses to apply a rigorous comparative perspective of the sort that we've unfolded in these articles and the wider series on the US's innovative prowess in economics . . . giving it a huge advantage over statist Japan and the welfare-state countries of the EU in living standards, now roughly 55% higher in each case.


EU vs. US Realities

Presumably, we could emulate Germany or France or Italy and we'd end up a far poorer, burdened with regulations galore, and with enterprise, a powerful work ethos, entrepreneurial vigor, and innovation and change trammeled in dozens of different ways, all protected by a tenacious status quo . . . economic and political alike.

Would Americans even like to live in such statist societies?

That seems doubtful, though some no doubt would. What is no less clear is that most West Europeans --- save for those hoping to escape the narrow pinched circumstances of tightly organized, tightly regulated societies and economic life --- wouldn't like the rough-and-tumble nature of American capitalism and society. Those large numbers of Europeans --- risk-taking, adventuresome, tired of social hierachies, weary of endless bureaucratic interference in their lives, and eager for a new life --- already left Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, followed in the 1990s by a small exodus to this country once more of innovative high-tech types.

Back on this side of the Atlantic, Americans could, of course, do what left-wing liberals and radicals long for and move quickly to an EU welfare-and-regulatory state. The very likely results? Not long afterwards, we could count on the average American living standard --- which is 55% higher than the EU average --- dropping steadily to that lower level, even as, simultaneously, unemployment in this country moved upward to the EU average that's roughly double ours. Most unemployment in the US --- roughly 10-12% --- is long-term; on the EU it's 4 to 5 times that. If you want a different picture, the US could emulate the economies of France, Germany, or Italy, and the average US living standard would drop to what it is for sparsely population rural states like Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, and West Virginia.


Still, the School of Resentment won't let up.

Besides ignoring these realities in their incessant drumbeat for a larger welfare state, higher taxes, more regulations, more income transfers, and what have you, they keep searching, desperately, without respite, for some equivalent here of the historical European or Latin American proletariat. Not able to find one, what do academic left-wingers fall back on? All sorts of contorted Marxist notions to account for its absence, that's what: covert repression, cultural hegemony and the capitalist mass media, globalizing forces, false consciousness --- what have you. They'll no doubt continue to conjure them up, one after another, until they're all pushing daisies, in this or future generation . . . unenlightened and bitter until the last one of them is rowed ashore to the other side of the river.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, most of us know that if there was no strong socialist or Marxist appeal in American life --- or on the right, a statist-conservatism --- it has to do largely with an unusually high living standard, comparatively viewed, from the start; and real wages for unskilled workers that were double those of Britain's in the 1840s and still 55-60% higher in 1914 despite 30 million immigrants to this country in the interval; and also an egalitarian distribution of land ownership without parallel in history; not to forget very early voting rights for (white) males --- 69% of whom had the vote, with no property qualifications, in 1840 at a time when the equivalent figure in Britain was about 3-4%.


That Said, Nobody Thinks Industrialization, Urbanization, The End of Slavery, and The Decline of Small Independent Farming Came Easily

Just the contrary. The formative period of an industrialized urban America --- 1840-1900 or so --- introduced modern capitalism, finance, giant corporate structures, the factory system andx mass production, and a national transportation network of railroads and canals, none of which evolved smoothly without dislocation and resistance from sectors of the American people who, at the end of the Jacksonian period in 1840, were self-sufficient farmers, selling their excess grain and meat to local markets. (The plantation slave-system of cotton production was the big exception, and it was destroyed in the Civil War.) Viewed in retrospect, the whole period was shot through with turbulence and upheaval, political as well as economic. (See again the outstanding Blumin chapter in The Cambridge Economic History of the United States for the 19th Century.)

Consider the evidence briefly

Politically, after 1789, the US was cleaved into two warring factions over slavery, and the outcome was settled only by a huge, mass-murdering Civil War that ended slavery and left the Southern population of whites sullen and resentful for decades, even as freed African-Americans largely ended up as poor tenant-farmers. Economic life was also full of turbulence, even if far less violence.

There were two short, sharp recessions in the 1850s and 1880s, plus the prolonged Great Depression of the 1870s, which introduced about 25-30 years of declining prices . . . the decline especially harmful to farmers, drawing them toward populism and political agitation against Eastern capital and business corporations. With a huge influx as well of immigration --- roughly 300,000 annually in the late 1860s and 1870s, then 500,000 a year in the 1880s and early 1890s, and an extraordinary million each year until WWI --- the wages of unskilled laborers rose slowly, and violent conflicts between labor and capital would erupt at times, as did politicized struggles over tariffs and immigration itself. (Another outstanding film on this is John Sayle's Matewan, which deals with the miners' efforts in a West Virginia town to organize a union back in the 1920s. The miners --- locals, new Italian immigrants, and African-Americans --- have to arm themselves to deal with the Pinkerton detectives that the owners hire to terrorize them. The town sheriff sides with the miners, and there's a big shoot-out at the end. The film is compulsive watching from start to finish.)

Out in the West, farmers and ranchers often clashed, and of course the more Americans of European descent and new immigrants pushed West of the Mississippi into the lands of the native Indian populations --- most of them forced onto reservations, whose original land always shrank under the pressure of westward migrations --- the 1860s and 1870s saw an eruption of wars between outmanned, outgunned Indian fighters and organized US cavalry.


So yes, a turbulent period full of upheaval. Who would deny it? It was well known even in the 19th century, long before highly politicized radical scholarship tried to take over historical work in many of our universities after 1968.

But then vast economic and political changes never occur without flux and turmoil, whether violent or not.

In Schumpeterian terms, the process of creative destruction --- driven by a series of revolutionary technological breakthroughs --- can't create a new economic system of capitalism without jarring the status quo and destroying much of the old: in the 19th century, small farmers except for those able to make the transition to modern agricultural technologies, skilled craftsmen, slave-owning plantations, workshop factories, and small town dominance of American life, not to forget the tragedies of native Americans deprived of their lands and freed African Americans eventually forced into a system of segregation and poverty except for those who migrated to urban centers in the north or west.

Still, our key point stands out . . .


No Socialist or Marxist Appeal Ever Emerged:

Only, for all the upheaval and turbulence, not once did all these upheavals, conflicts, and armed confrontations ever lead the American masses --- agrarian or urban --- to respond to the appeals of Marxist and other socialist activists. Populism would flourish among distraught farmers in the South and West; radical unions would emerge in the Northwest; mass unionism for unskilled production workers came slowly in the teeth of tenacious and at times armed resistance by corporations and local notables. At no point, though, did socialism ever draw a large following.

The evidence? Even with a candidate for President of the striking character and oratory of Eugene Debs, the American Socialist party never gathered more than 6.0% of the vote on a national level. That was in 1912, the high-point of Debs' vote in the five presidential elections he ran in between 1900 and 1920.


And note one more thing, a clinching piece of evidence.

The vast upheavals and social conflicts that broke out in the capitalist world in the Great Depression of the 1930s led, almost everywhere in Europe, to extremist fascist regimes: in Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Austria's Dolfuss dictatorship (until the Nazi takeover in 1937), and assorted militarist fascist-like regimes everywhere in East Europe save Czechoslovakia. Further east, in the Soviet Union, the huge mass-murdering Gulag-system of Stalinist Communism was already busy exterminating millions and tens of millions. Only the tiny Scandinavians, Holland, Belgium, France, and Switzerland on the Continent staves off a fascist take-over, at any rate until WWII erupted and all of them were conquered except neutral Sweden and Switzerland, both largely pro-Germany. France itself was polarized between the forces of the left and right as it entered WWII, and a Nazi-collaborating regime was immediately created in Vichy after its capitulation in six weeks of fighting. There's the outstanding exception, before and after 1939, in Europe: democratic Britain . . . a country without the ideological extremism or the statist traditions that flourished on the Continent, west or east .

Meanwhile, back in the US, unemployment levels by 1933 exceeded those in Weimar Germany. In February that year, Hitler came to power (legally); a Nazi dictatorship of a vicious mass-murdering genocidal sort then followed, plus a World War without parallel in modern history. A month later in 1933, the American response to the Great Depression and widespread misery was the inauguration of Franklyn D. Roosevelt's administration and the New Deal.

Anybody wonder, against this background, why a highly developed welfare-state is essential to European stability everywhere in the EU except in Britain and Ireland, two countries that can draw on a long historical history of industrialization by means of Anglo-American free-market preferences.