American Business Innovation Will Save Us
The American empire is not disintegrating; Americans are reassessing national values, vision, mission, and strategies. It is the regular exercise of any healthy enterprise. She still reigns supreme as the most powerful cultural, political, and economic influencer on the planet. China and Russia can destroy the world but are no match for America as influencers. Small countries like Israel and Singapore are disruptors nibbling at American prowess in spheres like innovation. But America, primarily U. S. businesses, adapts quickly. Businesses buy out the competition. Israel, for example, is a most willing seller. Business history tells us a lot about nation-building.
History teaches how religious beliefs, military prowess, political architecture, and entrepreneurial sparkle weave a tenacious web in nation and empire-building. Yet, business history receives short shrift in business schools and academic writing. Richard Vague, in An Illustrated Business History of the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021) writes: “Less has been written on this subject than on U.S. political, military, or social history, even though… business is equal to any of those fields in influence on society and arguably greater.”
Real Estate is the Business of Business
The pursuit of wealth always determined the priorities in Western countries. For instance, colonialism and the contemporary practice of slavery became enshrined in law, even in countries that discarded slavery at home. Tax codes favor corporations over individuals. The Dutch East India Company valuation hit an inflation-adjusted $8.28 trillion in 1637. By 1720, the English South Sea Company and Mississippi Company were valued at $4.5 and $6.8 trillion.
Before the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, wealthy Virginians established The Ohio Company in 1748. It was essentially a real estate company to profit from westward expansion. “From the outset, ambitious Americans well understood that buying land and waiting for the population to increase was a path to riches.” Andrew Carnegie quipped, “90% of all millionaires become so through owning real estate.” I know Ray Kroc became one by insisting franchisees lease their McDonalds buildings from Kroc. American real estate is valued at $60 trillion. Real estate is “the single highest-value asset in the United States, greater than the value of stocks, bonds, or any other major asset category” Vague reports.
Real estate was America’s first big business. The most influential events in the history of business are Vague’s chapters covering manufacturing and banking are next in importance. The land and its resources are given extensive coverage. So are the ages of prosperity and reform, mass production and cars, excess and depreciation, the stormy eighties, and the digital revolution. Greater thought and attention to the importance of slavery in the building of America would better round out its business history. Wealth and power are the silk entwining the tenacious web.
War is the Business of Business
Real estate undergirds America’s business. War is often good for business expansion. The American imperium is not threatened despite our hideous exits from Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. We maintain over 200,000 military troops on 800 known bases in 150 of the 195 nations across the globe. 11 U.S. aircraft carriers roam the seas. America spends more money employing more people engaging in cyberwarfare and intelligence gathering across the planet and in outer space.
Presidents abandoned isolationism in the 1800s engaging in skirmishes with foreign powers. The Civil War birthed the arms and ammunition industries, transportation, science and medicine, the business of prisons, the mass food industry, and more, like no other war before it. Until the two World Wars that followed.
It moved President General Eisenhower to warn the country, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Vague brings this relationship to today; it is a war that most “profoundly affected the course of U.S. business and incubated technological innovations that propel business forward.” It catapulted the world into the digital revolution. The government’s Manhattan Project catapulted the U.S. into the nuclear age, producing bombs, power, and medical possibilities. We built the highway system not to sell cars but to move soldiers and equipment cross-country fast and furious.
Building Wealth thru Tech
The newest Revolution is based on digitalization and technology. Artificial intelligence and Big Data dominate the fields of biotech, Fintech, space tech, info tech, Med-tech, nanotech, ed tech, prop tech, sleep tech, and Green Tech. They are the latest sources of wealth and power.
Small nations like Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong, and several of the Gulf States are ferociously penetrating markets with tech innovations and products. But their biggest exports are their companies. Israel’s business parks are dominated by office towers housing American, European, and Chinese companies. There are no legacy companies. Israeli politicians take pride in their entrepreneurs selling businesses. A major newspaper and several websites give weekly reports on how much money Israeli businesses collect as investments and later sell in a heated M&A environment. There is no mention about the ensuing job losses.
Israel tech-business miracle is a direct benefit of its eight decades of wars for survival. Israelis developed a passion for thinking out of the box. Social anthropologist Osnat Lautman claims Israeli business success results from a culture nourishing risk-taking and living in the moment. The start-up nation blossomed into an economic miracle. A plethora of tech companies birthed from military software and hardware inventions and innovations developed to stay ahead of her many enemies. There is nary a legacy company in Israel today. Israel’s largest company is cybersecurity Check Point Software Technologies. Israel’s decision-makers seem not to be learning any lessons from Vague’s business history about the waxing and waning of business cycles that portend the health and strength of a nation.
America leads the business tech landscape and is the world’s greatest influencer. It might have lost its manufacturing edge to Asia and other low-wage countries, but robotics, innovations in mass production, and the vagaries of dictatorial rule in those countries are spurring America to sharpen its competitive edge. The American empire is strong. Its business sector is the integral engine of growth and leadership.
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