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The guiding force of American national consciousness and socio-economic growth resides, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted long ago, in a deeply grounded, complex proclamation of the rights of the individual. Well before the American Revolution proved successful in 1781, the public culture of the American colonies found expression in the language, symbols, and imperatives of the Protestant Reformation, with its stark focus on the individual’s responsibility to seek and serve his God. In the nineteenth century, religious revivals and other church-related activities were, second only to the political debates they influenced, the nation’s most common public gatherings. Politically, this emphasis on individualism was embedded in America’s foundational documents: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the Declaration of Independence announced in 1776. A decade later, the United States Constitution, in its protection of the rights of individual states against the central government and in its defense of individual freedoms as enumerated in the Bill of Rights, shielded white male Americans from both an oppressive majority and the government itself.2 Individualism also infused colonial America’s economic thinking, as the resistance to the British mercantilist system indicates. The financial loss to colonial merchants and entrepreneurs was minimal, as smuggling and other forms of avoidance of British regulations were rampant until the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war. Yet the formal restrictions played a critical role in revolutionary agitation because they were perceived as efforts to limit individual economic initiative and autonomy. Understanding capitalism as a cultural system, even if a contested one, as Joyce Appleby suggests, helps us understand more clearly how Americans could embrace the ideas of both Adam Smith and Thomas Paine in 1775 and 1776 and thereafter. The prism through which they received both authors was a complex, evolving commitment to a political philosophy centered on individual rights.3 It is worthwhile considering this concept of individualism in the American experience for, in different ways, that popular, public belief-turned-ideology profoundly affected American economic and political history and policy over the following two centuries. Without grasping the changing use of that core idea, much of the American socio-political response to profound economic transformation remains a mystery, a mystery that lends itself all too easily to conspiratorial theories of elite imposition on a suffering people. Better, I think, to follow the lead of Max Weber, in his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and ask instead how did entrepreneurial capitalism, a system so destructive of traditional society and its mores, penetrate as deeply as it did the consciousness of individual men and women grounded in that traditional world? Such an approach has the additional benefit of making more intelligible the historical development of economic life that ensued. In the essay that follows, I will examine three periods in American economic life, with a focus on the interplay of technological innovations, economic transformation, and the responses to them. The first period, focused on the decades between 1870 and1920, experienced the emergence of the corporation as the major form of production and, not surprisingly, the development of oppositional political movements to it. The second period, from 1933 to the 1960s, marked an era of reform efforts to balance the relationship between management and labor, efforts that, ironically, accepted as their premise the structure and rationale of the corporation itself. The third period, from the 1970s to the present, examines on the impact the multinational corporation, operating in a globalized marketplace, on American economic and political life.