Michael Gaynor
Why to read Hardy Green's The Company Town
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By Michael Gaynor
September 28, 2010

Anyone thinking the book lacks contemporary relevance hasn't read it.

Hardy Green, in The Company Town: Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy, provocatively stated (p. 3) that "Company towns are un-American — and they are the essence of America" and then presented his case in a readily enjoyable (yet scholarly) 200+ page book with more than 20 pages of end notes.

Glenn Beck and Oprah Winfrey may not read The Company Town, but they should. American history afficiandos will appreciate it. But anyone who realizes that studying the past explains the present and enhances the possibility of a better future should read it. (One enthusiastic reviewer wanted everyone born in the twentieth century to read it, but many of those persons are dead and the book is only available in English.)

Team Beck especially should pay attention. Beck has acknowledged that he has much of which to be ashamed, but calling attention to the role of religion in American history that secularists usually prefer to disregard is something of which he can be rightfully proud.. Historian Green paid attention to religious influence, as more than 30 references to religion in the index show), and acknowledged at a book event held at the New York Public Library on September 21, 2010 that company towns were more likely to be "industrial Edens" than "Satanic mills)" when religion played an important part.

The book website (www.thecompanytownbook.com/) summarizes:

"America has been uniquely open to the development of the single-company community. But rather than adhering to a uniform blueprint, American company towns represent two very different strands of capitalism. One is socially benign — a paternalistic, utopian ideal that fosters the development of schools, hospitals, parks, and desirable housing for its workers. The other, 'Exploitationville,' focuses only on profits, at the expense of employees' well-being.

"Adeptly distinguishing between these two models, Green offers rich stories about town-builders and workers. He vividly describes the origins of America's company towns, the living and working conditions that characterize them, and the violent, sometimes fatal labor confrontations that have punctuated their existence. And he chronicles the surprising transformation underway in many such communities today."

Publishers Weekly concurs: "Labor historian Green tells the story of American capitalism as played out in the rise and fall of the 'company town' in this engaging book. From the tent cities of Appalachian coal fields to the model villages built for New England mill workers, the company town was once a common feature in the American landscape, with a legacy that can be seen in Google and Microsoft's high-tech campuses. Marked by the domination of a corporation over the lives of its workers, company towns also became scenes of social control and experiment: capitalist utopianists like candy-maker Milton Hershey strived to create communities that would improve worker productivity, moral rectitude, and docility. If the book has a flaw, it is its overemphasis on the (admittedly colorful) personalities and philosophies of the corporate barons at the expense of the workers' themselves, whose lives are sketched in the abstract but whose voices are rarely heard. With that caveat, the book provides a valuable perspective on a well-worn history, detailing the heinous, lofty, and occasionally absurd ways companies have tried to shape their workers' lives beyond factory walls."

Anyone thinking the book lacks contemporary relevance hasn't read it.

Green, in The Company Town: "...Looking Backward envisions a coming golden age, realized by the year 2000, in which all individual companies are replaced by a socialist government that operates all enterprise — in which the nation becomes 'the one capitalist in the place of all the other capitalists.' As part of an all-encompassing industrial army, every citizen does the work he or she is best at (women, now liberated, play a significant role), and all receive identical remuneration. There are no rich and no poor, but everyone benefits from efficiencies in production and distribution and the elimination of war and criminality."

It DIDN'T happen by 2000. Instead then President Bill Clinton failed to have Hillarycare enacted, watched the Republicans take control of Congress and then proceeded to embrace welfare reform, restrain government spending, balance the budget, promote free trade and declared that "the era of big government is over."

But as the Age of Obama has unfolded, with the return of Big Government, with Obamacare, Obamamotors and increased governmental regulation, Cap and Tax being pursued and the possibility of card check replacing the secret ballot in unionization elections symbolizing the loss of freedom, the need to study America's history — ALL OF IT-has become even more important.

Green is a former associate editor at Business Week, where he was responsible for book review coverage. He holds a Ph.D. in United States, lives in New York City, blogs at www.hardygreen.com and is married to my former law partner, Emily M. Bass (the "Maruja" to whom the book is mysteriously dedicated).

© Michael Gaynor

 

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)

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