Title: Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
Author: Richard White
Year: 2011
Categories: Business History, Spatial History, Environmental History, American West, Labor, Political Economy, Reform, Antimonopolism, Indians
Place: United States, American West
Time Period: 1860-1897

Argument Synopsis
Richard White argues that the transcontinental railroads of the late 19th century were political, business, and social failures that should not have been constructed when and where they were. Far from being the harbingers of order and modernity, they were largely vehicles for financial manipulation, political corruption, and personal gain - harbingers of a different kind of modernity. White goes against the narratives of Robert Wiebe and Albert Chandler that highlight the rise of corporate-based efficiency and organization. Railroads also rearranged space, but did so disruptively and inconsistently in ways that led to major political and social conflict. White undermines the idea of capitalism's "creative destruction" posited by Joseph Schumpter, and instead tries to restore the place of anti-monopolists who, despite their flaws (ex. racism), were in fact quite modern and posed legitimate criticisms of railroads and corporations. 

White advances several key themes for understanding the period. First is the concept of "friends." Railroad men often established relationships with one another, newspaper editors, bankers, and politicians in order to organize political lobbying and activity. Information was the major currency of exchange among this network of "friends," which was exchanged for a gamut of compensation ranging from railroad perks to outright bribery of politicians. Second is the concept of spatial politics, which revolved around the relationship between absolute space (measured in distance and relative space (measured in things like cost or time). White argues that railroads did, in fact, "annihilate time," but did so unevenly, often favoring some customers over others. Struggles, resentment, and anxieties over the railroads' ability to manipulate freight rates and give discounted, secretive rates to well-connected clients ("discrimination" in the language of the day) fueled anti-monopolist sentiment and stood at the heart of spatial politics. Third, White examines the role of culture in both the world of railroad managers and the world of anti-monopolists and workingmen. White argues that masculinity played a dominant role in BOTH, with railroad owners seeing themselves as manly carriers of modernity and the working-class viewing the point of the political economy to foster republican virtues rather than economic gain - a vision threatened by railroad policies and wages that undermined their independence, particularly with the use of "unfree" Chinese labor. 

Finally, White tackles the linkage between modernity, capitalism, and failure. White argues that far from being a narrative of the triumphs of corporate capitalism, the late nineteenth-century is a story of the destructive impact of corporations and their ability to survive not via the free market (Schumpter's "creative destruction") but instead via a close relationship with the federal state, which propped up railroads via subsidies, putting down strikes, and friendly legislation greased by bribery. Railroad financiers' ability to marry politics with their own financial gain was their real achievement, but one that came with tremendous cost. In one of his most scathing chapters, for instance, White charts the environmental catastrophe wrought by the railroads on the great plains: hastening the destruction of bison, dispossessing Indian peoples, and a disastrous and costly open-range cattle industry. White argues forcefully that economic historians need to more heavily weigh all of the social and environmental costs. In this respect, he is sympathetic to the anti-monopolists, who he argues left a positive legacy of reform and regulation.

Key Themes and Concepts:
- "Friends" - network of people (politicians, businessmen, bankers, newspapers) who used each other for political manipulation and often bartered in the currency of information.
- Spatial Politics - Railroads engaged in a spatial form of politics that centered around the COST of transportation and setting freight rates, which made distance and space inherently unstable and the flashpoint for anti-monopolist anger. Ex. of subsidizing the Pacific Mail Steamship company to artificially keep its rates higher from California.
- Creative Destruction - when economists talk about benefits, they often neglect social costs/benefits. In particular he looks at the environmental devastation of cattle industry and the impact on Indian groups.
- Cultural Influence - manliness and masculinity influenced how railroads were managed and organized, which goes against accounts of anxiety over neutering effects of business on masculinity
- Antimonopolism and Workingmen Culture - nineteenth century attitudes towards work saw economy not as profit-driven, but instead as fostering republican virtues through financially independent citizens (corporations were a threat to this, particularly their use of "unfree"/Chinese labor and undermining of white masculinity). 

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