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Organizing America

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Organizing America

Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism

Princeton UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Though the founders did not guess that many Americans would work for big companies, they were already wary of big power.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


You may never have given a second thought to the very existence of the Fortune 500, but author and academic Charles Perrow has. In this eye-opening sociological account, he argues that the huge organizations that dominate today’s business world in the United States would have been unthinkable to the nation’s Founding Fathers, who viewed centralized money and power with great suspicion. Perrow’s fascinating study points out the importance of big organizations in shaping American society. Yet for all his sweeping - and well-reasoned - arguments, Perrow focuses only on a couple of diminished industries. Still, this intriguing work is an important read for responsible corporate citizens. recommends this social history to those leaders who want American corporations to be more than profit-making machines.


The Rise of the Large Organization

In today’s society, Americans take large corporations for granted. For all the talk of corporate downsizing, the typical Fortune 500 company diminished in size only slightly between 1979, when corporations averaged 3,000 employees, and 1993, when they averaged 2,750 employees. However, the tremendous influence of large organizations is a relatively recent phenomenon in American history.

Until the Civil War, few organizations of any consequence existed in the entire nation. People typically lived on farms and supported themselves. Most pursued family farming or trades, or worked for tiny companies. Until about 1850, few Americans worked in organizations of any size. Working for a large organization was considered an odd form of dependence. Indeed, having seen England’s concentration of wealth and power, the founders of the United States had no desire for a similar model in their nascent nation.

But the industrialization of the growing nation, and its increasing population, allowed large companies to form and to earn profits by employing workers. This trend began slowly, in textile mills in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, notably...

About the Author

Charles Perrow is a research scholar and professor emeritus of sociology at Yale University. His six other books include Complex Organizations and Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. Perrow is an organizational theorist who studies the effects of large organizations on society.

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