Friday, August 5, 2016

Wilson's "Destructive Creation"

New from the University of Pennsylvania Press is Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II, by Mark R. Wilson,  University of North Carolina at Charlotte.   Legal historians will recognize Professor Wilson from his essay “Law and the American State, From the Revolution to the Civil War: Institutional Growth and Structural Change,” in the Cambridge History of Law in America (2008); and his article “Taking a Nickel Out of the Cash Register": Statutory Renegotiation of Military Contracts and the Politics of Profit Control in the United States during World War II, Law and History Review 28 (2010).
During World War II, the United States helped vanquish the Axis powers by converting its enormous economic capacities into military might. Producing nearly two-thirds of all the munitions used by Allied forces, American industry became what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "the arsenal of democracy." Crucial in this effort were business leaders. Some of these captains of industry went to Washington to coordinate the mobilization, while others led their companies to churn out weapons. In this way, the private sector won the war—or so the story goes.

Based on new research in business and military archives, Destructive Creation shows that the enormous mobilization effort relied not only on the capacities of private companies but also on massive public investment and robust government regulation. This public-private partnership involved plenty of government-business cooperation, but it also generated antagonism in the American business community that had lasting repercussions for American politics. Many business leaders, still engaged in political battles against the New Deal, regarded the wartime government as an overreaching regulator and a threatening rival. In response, they mounted an aggressive campaign that touted the achievements of for-profit firms while dismissing the value of public-sector contributions. This probusiness story about mobilization was a political success, not just during the war, but afterward, as it shaped reconversion policy and the transformation of the American military-industrial complex.

Offering a groundbreaking account of the inner workings of the "arsenal of democracy," Destructive Creation also suggests how the struggle to define its heroes and villains has continued to shape economic and political development to the present day.
Some endorsements:

"Destructive Creation is a probing account of the World War II mobilization effort that sheds new light on the sources of big business hostility to government regulation. As Mark Wilson demonstrates in absorbing detail, it was the very success of the wartime state that generated such a furious business backlash. This is revisionist history in the most provocative and illuminating sense.—Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Mark Wilson offers the decisive account of how the United States became, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, the greatest 'arsenal of democracy,' allowing for the Allied victory in World War II. Analytically rich and narratively compelling, Destructive Creation tells the story of how American businessmen fought highly contested political battles on the homefront to privatize production, or at least sell the virtue of private enterprise, even as they mobilized for a war paid with public funds. An outstanding reinterpretation of the role of business in the war effort, this volume is a must read for anyone who wants to understand World War II and the world of private contractors that has come to define our modern military."—Meg Jacobs, author of Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America

"Destructive Creation is a truly important, impressive, and extraordinary history of the mobilization of the United States' economy during the Second World War, with a number of fascinating implications for our understanding of the interactions between business, politics, and American society. Mark R. Wilson makes a compelling case for placing the relationship between the military and business at the center of how we think about modern American history."—Jason Scott Smith, University of New Mexico

TOC and an excerpt here.