This chapter considers how a group of six hundred manufacturers met in Cincinnati in January 1895 to address the challenges of their day, including deep depression, falling prices, and cutthroat competition. Manufacturers saw overproduction as the primary cause of their woes and had two responses to it. First, they turned to the promise of foreign markets, both to offload surpluses and find new markets. And second, they tried to find ways to subvert the debilitating effects of competition through cooperation and planning, first in the form of unworkable “pools” and “gentlemen's agreements” and eventually, more legitimately, in the form of trade associations. These manufacturers were creating an organization that would pursue both strategies, thereby facilitating the modernization of American industry and government. The result was the “corporate reconstruction of capitalism”: a new form of capitalism based on cooperation, rationality, and long-term planning superseded a nineteenth-century proprietary capitalism based on competition, “rugged individualism,” and decentralized government. Trade associations like the National Association of Manufacturers were key to this transition.
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