Essays Early History American Corporations

Much of this was owed to the Ayr Bank, which imploded.In less than three weeks, another 30 banks collapsed across Europe, bringing trade to a standstill.For a long time, I was misled by the fact that 90% of the available books frame globalization and the emergence of modernity in terms of the nation-state as the fundamental unit of analysis, with politics as the fundamental area of human activity that shapes things. Nominally, nation-states subsume economic activity, with even the most powerful multi-national corporations being merely secondary organizing schemes for the world.

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Of course, there is arguably progress on all four fronts.

You could say that Shakespeare represents progress with respect to Aeschylus, and Tom Stoppard with respect to Shakespeare.

They will live on as religious institutions do today, as weakened ghosts of more vital institutions from centuries ago.

It is not yet time for the obituary (and that time may never come), but the sun is certainly setting on the Golden Age of corporations.

You could say Obama understands politics in ways that say, Hammurabi did not. It is sort of vaguely plausible that you could switch artists, politicians and generals around with their peers from another age and still expect them to function.

You could say that General Petraeus thinks of the problems of military strategy in ways that Genghis Khan did not. On the other hand the proposition that Facebook (the corporation) is in some ways a beast entirely beyond the comprehension of an ancient Silk Road trader seems vastly more solid. War-making uses it, but maintains an arms-length separation. But there is no meaningful way for a businessman from (say) 2000 BC to comprehend what Mark Zuckerberg does, let alone take over for him.It is technology, acting through business and Schumpeterian creative-destruction, that drives monotonic, historicist change, for good or bad.Business is the locus where the non-human force of technological change sneaks into the human sphere.By January, the terms of a comprehensive bailout were worked out, and the British government inserted its czars into the Company’s management to ensure compliance with its terms. The year was 1772, exactly 239 years ago today, the apogee of power for the corporation as a business construct.The company was the British East India company (EIC). Between the founding of the EIC in 1600 and the post-subprime world of 2011, the idea of the corporation was born, matured, over-extended, reined-in, refined, patched, updated, over-extended again, propped-up and finally widely declared to be obsolete.So if you want to follow the arguments more closely, you may want to read some or all of these. If I were to teach a 101 course on the subject, I’d start with these as required reading in the first 8 weeks.The human world, like physics, can be reduced to four fundamental forces: culture, politics, war and business.I don’t want to stretch the metaphor too far, but something similar holds true of business.On the scale of days or weeks, culture, politics and war matter a lot more in shaping our daily lives.But one quality makes gravity dominate at large space-time scales: gravity affects all masses and is always attractive, never repulsive.So despite its weakness, it dominates things at sufficiently large scales.


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