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America as an Economic Power, Essay Example

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Essay

In the 1890s, there were few nations on earth that matched the self-assured bravado held by that of the United States.  In just over a century, the country had changed from being a cluster of colonies clinging to the Eastern seaboard to a power that spanned the whole of North America and was now challenging its former colonial master in the game of empire-building. Its armed forces had whipped the Mexican Army, taking almost half of its territory in the process, and had just cowed the Spanish into surrendering Cuba and its holdings in the Pacific Ocean.

These heady achievements were matched by heady American economic rhetoric concerning the benefits that American dominion could bring to the uncivilized on the globe.In his essay “The March of the Flag,” Albert Beveridge wrote of the new world power as “a land that can feed…with a nobler destiny”[1].The United States began to replace Europe as the principal source of capital, and the free exchange of Latin American primary commodities for U.S. manufactured goods became the basis of U.S. economic power in the region. By 1900 the United States has become a leading industrial economic power in the world. In that year America produced over 11 million tons of steel, more than the combined output of Germany and France.

This remarkable expansion can be attributed to several factors: on the supply side, increased capital investment, technological innovation, and productivity growth; on the demand side, domestic market development, particularly in the urban areas, and increased exports.

Until the end of the 1870s the laying and developing of a railroad network absorbed capital and provided impetus for the economy. From 1880 until just after the turn of the century, the growth of a national market (created in large measure by the railroads) and urban markets served to accelerate economic expansion. From the early 1900s the integration of electricity and the automobile into American life spurred the economy.

The growth of the American markets in the 1890s can be traced in the movement from local to regional markets and then on to a national market. By 1900 this market was held together by a railroad lines, totaling more than a quarter of a million miles of track. Within this national market, the highest demand sectors were the rapidly expanding cities. Not only did the growing population require a large volume of consumer goods, but the physical development of the cities – housing, bridges, water, and sewage systems – demanded enormous investment. The civilian workforce during that era reflected the shift away from an agrarian-based economy. In 1900 there were 11 million persons involved in farm labor and 16 million in non-agrarian cultural employment.

American manufacturing production doubled by 1900, and a rising portion of this output flowed into foreign markets. The composition of the nation’s international trade reflected that had taken place in the structure of the American economy. As of 1900 agricultural products still constituted the largest category of exports, but by 1910, they were surpassed by industrial exports.

The United States enjoyed a favorable balance of trade during each year of the period from 1866 to 1900, with total exports approximately $26 billion and total imports approximately $19 billion. Despite America’s creditor status in international trade, the amount of foreign capital investment in this country continued to keep the nation in a debtor category until World War I.

[1] SeeBeveridge, A. “The March of the Flag”. 1898. Web

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