Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped The American Economy / by Hardy Green

From Lowell, Massachussetts to Hershey, Pennsylvania and from Gary, Indiana to The Dalles, Oregon where Google houses several processing installations and server farms, company towns are and have been as much a part of America as organized labor. Seen by some as models of American capitalism and by others as the mechanism behind socio-economic control and stagnated prosperity, the company town has been pivotal in the evolution of the American economy just as much as ingenuity has propelled labor and industry. Author Hardy Green, an Associate Editor of Business Week, tells the story of numerous visionary capitalists who foresaw a common ground where political freedom and powerful private ownership could pave the way for a utopian ideal.

While the greatest number of the economical luminaries who 'capitalized' on the idea rose to prominence during the industrial revolution, many siezed their opportunities during the war years in the earyl-to-mid twentieth century. People like shipbuilder and construction magnate Henry J. Kaiser used ebbs and flows in the American economy, in this case the onset of WWII, to create industrial communities that could do things like build cargo ships in the deepwater port town of Richmond, CA, simultaneously improving worker productivity, family stability and further progress. The dream was even a reality for Kaiser and his business partner W.A. Bechtel who maximized the fledgling Bay Area town's potential all through the war and into the post-war boom only to witness the frightening decline and fall of the utopia a generation afterwards (Richmond is now routinely high on CQ Press's list of America's most dangerous cities). While the book talks up the towns made famous by industrious men and companies, it rather diminishes the plight of the workers themselves, the great many of them who experienced the inevitable break in loyalty and whose lives and legacies still remain just that--broken. It's certainly not a book which goes in depth as much as you'd like concerning the continually remorphed relationship between capitalism and welfare. (307.7670973 GREEN)

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