… is from page 44 of the 2006 3rd edition of Glenn Porter’s 1973 book, The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1920:
Turning first to the early turnpikes, then to canals, and then to railroads, nineteenth-century Americans tied more and more of the nation together with increasingly reliable and more affordable ways of moving people and products. These improvements in transport and communications began the erosion of the island communities within the economy and the society. With each step forward in this arena, Americans benefitted, both socially and economically, from participation in larger and more specialized networks. First locales, then regions, and then the nation as a whole became more integrated and unified.
DBx: In 2023 we are accosted with complaints about the disruptiveness of globalization – about the so-called “China Shock” – about how “neoliberalism” and “market fundamentalism” and immigration destroy communities and familiar patterns of life – about how multinational corporations’ heartless quests for profit dehumanizes workers – about how modern financial markets displace that which is meaningful and stable with that which is frivolous and unstable. Such complaints ooze pathos as they give the speakers or writers issuing them a superficial appearance of profundity. ‘Alas, most of my fellow human beings are blind to the soul-destroying nature of market-driven economic change, but I and this Very Profound Person whose message I’m absorbing possess sensibilities that are higher and nobler than are those with which most of our fellow human beings are stuck. We aren’t gross materialists; we understand that the pace and so-called ‘progress’ of today’s hyperglobalization are inhumane. It’s not really progress at all; it’s regress.’
People who complain about the pace and progress of today’s globalized economy have no sense of history. Not only do they not understand just how materially poor were ordinary people – even ordinary Americans – just a few generations ago compared to ordinary Americans today. The many intellectuals who so ostentatiously gripe about the alleged unprecedented materialism of today’s economy and its alleged unprecedented capacity to speedily undermine communities and traditional ways of doing business never intelligently compare today to any real yesterdays. (Comparisons to mythical yesterdays are abundant.)
Does the globalization of the early 21st century cause faster or worse change than did the increasing ‘regionalization’ of America in the 19th century? Or the increasing ‘nationalization’ of America in the 20th century? What’s the difference between the American steel worker who today complains about his fellow Americans buying steel manufactured in Brazil from the American butcher who in 1890 complained about his fellow citizens buying fresh meat slaughtered in Chicago?
No one can say for certain, but I suspect that the ‘felt’ disruptiveness experienced by ordinary 19th-century Americans as a result of economic change brought about by canals, steamboats, railroads, and electronic communications was just as great, and perhaps greater, than is the ‘felt’ disruptiveness experienced by ordinary 21st-century Americans as a result of economic change brought about by modern cargo ships, the Internet, smartphones, and artificial intelligence.