The giant business corporation is a type of institution which has made possible economic growth and creation of wealth on a scale never before seen in history. It also is a concentration of economic and political power that is dangerous to a free and democratic nation.
One of the great issues of American public policy, for more than a century, has been how we the people can get the benefit of the corporate form of organization without allowing it to swallow up everything else in American life.
Marty Sklar, a college classmate of mine at the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s, went on to become a historian whose field of study was this issue. I didn’t keep in touch with him after college, but I recently read magazine articles paying tribute to him as a historian on the occasion of his death. I was intrigued enough to get a copy of his major book, which is out of print.
The Corporation Reconstruction of American Capitalism, written in 1988, is about the debate over corporate monopoly and anti-trust law in the era when corporations first came to dominate the U.S. economy.
It covers roughly the same period and issues as Altgeld’s America, but in a very different way. Ray Ginger’s book is about the hurly-burly, corruption and violence of street-level politics and labor struggles in Chicago, while Sklar’s book is about high-level discussion of public policy.
American statesmen saw that corporate trusts and monopoly represented a dangerous concentration of power, which farmers, laborers and independent business owners could not withstand. But at the same time, these same corporations increased economic efficiency and productivity and raised the American material standard of living to a level never before seen.
I remember Marty in his college student days as a strongly committed left-wing radical. But in his book, he seems well-content with the workings of American capitalism and American statesmanship.