Thursday, December 3, 2009

Aristocratic Mindset

We ran out of time in 4a and 4b. The class notes for economic development have a skeletal outline, but I'll expand here in the interest of clarity.

In Mr. Healy’s and Mr. Moyer’s classes you learned about how the industriali revolution in Europe was spearheaded by the middle class. Even though the middle class had less relative wealth than the land-owning aristocracy, they were the lion’s share of investors in new economic ventures. This is because of the “aristocratic mindset.” Landowners were contemptuous of cash-based business and believed that earning money was unworthy, dirty, and beneath them.

Southern plantation owners saw themselves as the American version of the European aristocracy. Instead of serfs or tenant farmers they had slaves to work their large estates. They emulated European aristocratic ideals. Although Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were successful in various fields (not least of which was politics), they all referred to themselves as planters – people who supervised the agricultural labor of others.

This attitude didn’t just affect the top of the social pyramid. The prejudice against commercial activity shaped the tiny Southern middle class. The South’s middle class was professional – based on training and knowledge. Buying and selling were held at arm’s length. Second sons of planters who denied inheritance under the primogeniture system could become ministers, lawyers, doctors, and army officers. The best and brightest entered these fields. Poor southerners aped the attitudes of their social bettors and dismissed capitalists as money-grubbers.

In the north, the protestant work ethic and growing mercantile economy gave social status to those embroiled in the hurly-burly of the business world. The best and brightest northerners went into business. This in turn helped fuel industrial expansion in the North (although it would hamper the North come 1860 – their best and brightest hadn’t gone to West Point). The Middle class was entrepreneurial – willing to take risks to make a profit – and innovative. The innovative culture was key to industrialization and still has a major impact on the world economy – we may not be able to build stuff as cheaply as other countries, but we come up with all kinds of new technology.

The Northwest doesn’t foster economic growth either – they aren’t as hostile to business as the aristocrats of the South, but the culture encouraged hard working people to build up their commercial grain farms. The independent yeoman farmer was the cultural ideal (this was further enhanced by the idealization of farm life permeating 48er culture). The availability of family labor was a natural check on the possible size those farms could attain. Eventually, the Northwest did develop some hostility to the factory system but it was mostly against the culture of wage earning and time discipline being imposed on factory workers.

In short, the South’s contemptuous view of commerce made it unlikely that the rare plantation owner with ready capital would invest in the creation of an industrial enterprise.

1 comment:

  1. Tueting. What did you mean in the second-to-last paragraph when you said "48er culture?"


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