Business and the Government have always had a complicated relationship in America, which follows an almost unique Capitalist structure. After the Civil War, increased investment in industry meant that industrial growth was happening in an extremely rapid manner, “within a coarse, little-regulated capitalist system” which had high levels of “exploitation” (Steiner & Steiner, 2011, p97). The situation developed into something more dangerous when over time the number of people working in dangerous industry grew to almost 5 million and 1977 brought “a wave of violent strikes” (Steiner & Steiner, 2011, p98). President B. Hayes was worried that this would develop into a workers’ revolution, suggesting that at this time the relationship between business and government was one of almost fear.
Popular opinion of business and how it should act then developed into an almost socialist movement that was critical of government and business. These people felt that fair labor and wages should be implemented to protect the people, and to some extent this did happen towards the end of the 19th century (Eberly, 1994). The U.S. people found a new confidence in business and its place in the world, which swiftly declined after the first Wall Street Crash in 1929 (Eberly, 1994). The support for American capitalism waned and there were investigations that showed that there were levels of criminal negligence and fraud in business (Eberly, 1994). The people called for higher levels of government involvement in business to ensure some form of regulation to protect themselves. Populism, a movement which began in the 19th century and caters to the general requirements and interests of the people, began gaining more traction as people were dissatisfied and distrustful of big business (Steiner & Steiner, 2011).
A man named Huey Long was a proponent of higher levels of tax, particularly on “coporate assets and large fortunes” in “a plan to redistribute wealth” (Steiner & Steiner, 2011, p100). This ultimately failed, although Franklin D. Roosevelt did implement some tax reforms that helped to redistribute wealth in a slightly milder manner (Mack, 1997). During World War II, a new spirit of patriotism unfolded in the U.S. and as a result people began to have more support for big business, particularly those like General Motors that dedicated themselves to the war efforts (Mack, 1997). Swiftly after the war ended, the 1960s brought more populist movements and an increased public interest in social and human rights, which meant that government was again pressured to place more controls on businesses to ensure that they were looking after the people, rather than the other way around (Mack, 1997).
The progressive movement was awakened again in the 1980s, and the main figurehead for this movement is a Ralph Nader (Steiner & Steiner, 2011). The purpose of this new progressive movement is to attempt to control businesses who have too much power, and who the progressives feel are not able to be controlled by business (Steiner & Steiner, 2011). Unfortunately, this split the Democrat vote somewhat, allowing George W. Bush to win the presidential election. Bush is a strongly pro-business candidate who supports capitalism. During his time of power, there was some deregulation of businesses and some would argue that his liberal stance on business control had at least some part to play in the development of the 2008 recession (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008). People in the current era have little faith in big business to play their part in social responsibility and also in the ability of the government to regulate them (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008), suggesting that there may be a place for a new progressive movement to start redistributing wealth and ensuring there are more controls in place.
These changes over time have affected society in many ways. Firstly, they have definitely reformed the way that people are treated at work – child labor is illegal and is nowhere near as prominent as it was during the industrial revolution (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008). The progressive movement (both old and new) have made some headway in ensuring that businesses uphold their social responsibilities and that means that they have to give back to the community and look after staff (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008). Additionally, the modern era is arguably much better for women and minorities in the workplace, partly due to changes in government structure and pressure from social movements that have pushed businesses to evolve in line with current social expectations (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008).
Overall, these changes have mostly been beneficial for the American people. The fact that the government now advocates at least some social rights in the workplace means that the population are protected when they go to work (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008). Many businesses are also encouraged to take part in other social responsibilities by the government, including a reduction in use of fossil fuels and giving back environmentally (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008). This will protect the American people now, but the benefits will continue into the future. Unfortunately, the way that capitalism has evolved in the U.S. is not always good for the people. With George W. Bush many businesses grew uncontrollably and there is a huge wealth disparity between the very richest in the United States (usually business owners like the Waltons) and the poorest (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008). This means that business is taking away from hard-working people, which is evidently not good for the population. Overall, it seems as though some middle ground between all the opposing political movements should be found to benefit the people of the United States.