The Wealth Creators

When the American Colonies were founded nothing suggested that they could ever become a major world power. The standard explanations for American economic growth--natural resources, an abundant labor supply, available capital, and the Protestant ethic of hard work and thrift--all contributed, but they are not powerful enough to account for the immense wealth creation which has characterized the American economy from the beginning. In this readable popular history, Trinity College economics professor Gerald Gunderson places the entrepreneurial instinct at the center of the growth process.

This approach challenges the view that modern growth did not begin until the Industrial Revolution. The founding of the Colonies was itself an entrepreneurial undertaking, and within the Colonial environment innovations in shipping, agriculture, and merchandising made the Colonies the growth sector of their time. The complex enterprises of the late nineteenth century were made possible by advances in transportation (steamboat, railroad) and communication (telegraph), as well as rising personal incomes, all of which combined to create national markets.

The era of the “robber barons"--John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Jay Gould--was remarkable, and Gunderson examines business practices and public perceptions of them, questioning the accuracy of the definition of competition which colored the antitrust laws enacted at the time. As the account moves into the twentieth century and historical perspective becomes inevitably foreshortened, the treatment breaks down into a conventional listing of trends and prominent entrepreneurs; not as visionary as the earlier parts of the book, but still a good overview of contemporary American business.

There are many books which discuss the careers of individual entrepreneurs and attempt to uncover the personality traits responsible for their motivation and success. THE WEALTH CREATORS includes some of this sort of analysis, but its unique contribution is its examination of the economic role of the entrepreneurial function.