The Industrial Age and Capitalism


Industrial Age can be defined as the time when people became actively engaged in the development of manufacturing machinery. The given historical period is associated with many break-through technological advances and inventions, which consequently permeated almost every aspect of human life. The industrial revolution is closely related to the rise of capitalism as well. Together, these two phenomena substantially contributed to economic democratization through the mass production of goods and the promotion of consumerism. During that time, job opportunities were created along with the opportunities for leisure, which stimulated and accelerated the growth of a productive middle class. Nevertheless, despite multiple positive effects of capitalism and industrial revolution on the economic growth at the individual, organizational, and national levels, mass production can negatively affect traditional, cultural livelihoods, as well as other aspects of social life. It means that capitalism produces both winners and losers. Considering that the issue is highly controversial, the given research project will aim to provide detailed research of the matter.

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The Industrial Age: Key Features and Impacts on Society

Having originated in Great Britain in the second half of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution gained unstoppable nature, gradually spread over the globe, and ushered in the Industrial Age. This stage lasted for several centuries and encompassed a series of interrelated changes in economic and social structures, culminating in the shift of the Western world from agriculture-based systems towards predominantly industrial society (Casassas & Wagner, 2016). Although the time framework and some trends of inindustrialization-oriented transformations varied due to specific socioeconomic conditions in different countries, the core characteristics and impacts of the Industrial Age can be generalized to the following features:

  • Ongoing technological advancements, scientific progress, and inventions of new mechanisms;
  • Extension of transport networks;
  • Minimizationof manual labor via the adoption of new manufacturing techniques and increasing utilization of machinery in production processes (Phillips, Yu, Hameed, & Akhdary, 2017, p. 177);
  • Urbanization and an unprecedented growth of cities;
  • Growing property polarization of society;
  • Secularization of society, including the liberation of spiritual and social life from clericalinfluences, development of atheism, and assertion of free-thinking;
  • Democratization of political structures thatgenerated preconditions for the formation of a rule-of-law state and civil society;
  • Creation of prerequisites for the market economy, freedom of commerce,mass production, banking development, and the rise of capitalism (Casassas & Wagner, 2016, p. 162; Phillips et al., 2017).

Labor and the War: The Industrial Age During the Civil War

One of the most important historical aspects of the Industrial Age was linked to the Civil War. As Greenberg (2018) notes, the enlistment of nearly a half of all the workingmen in the North played a crucial role in the history of the Industrial Age and the history of labor unions in the US. The workers’ integrity was remarkable, some of them joining the army as formulated units under the effect of commitment to democracy (Greenberg, 2018). The lack of union members initiated the need for a change in the industrial system, and President Lincoln called for volunteers what were supposed to stop the inevitable economic disruption.

The lack of specialists in particular professions was particularly acute in 1861. However, in the mid-1862, there was a noticeable growth in the trade union revival (Greenberg, 2018). The Civil War served as a trigger for people’s search for labor reformation and trade union organization. Workers viewed those opportunities as the possibility to protect their rights. The service at war made people more willing to defend their freedom and equality (Greenberg, 2018). Thus, towards the war’s end, the militancy of the soldiers increased. One of the most crucial aspects of labor activists’ work concerned the formation of labor units. After the Civil War, there appeared many “worker-owned producer cooperatives” (Greenberg, 2018, p. 132). Apart from that, the eight-hour working day was accepted, and the labor party was created. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Industrial Age promoted the formation of democratic labor policies in the US.

Capitalism: Core Characteristics

The aforementioned peculiar features of the Industrial Age contributed to the rise of capitalism as a socioeconomic formation. Embodying the liberal ideology that prevailed in the United States and Europe in the nineteenth century, capitalism denotes “a way of organizing the economy” (Casassas & Wagner, 2016, p. 160). Industrialization and modernization are inextricably linked with the development of capitalism-grounded socioeconomic structures (Casassas & Wagner, 2016; Phillips et al., 2017). Concerning the key features of economic relations in capitalist society, they involve the orientation towards profit making, the rule of private property, competition, freedom of entrepreneurship, distribution of produced goods and services through market mechanisms, and so on.

Influences of Capitalism on Contemporary Society: Positive and Negative Aspects

Capitalism undergoes a process of permanent transformations that predefine its impacts on society. The emergence of consumer society, formation of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, social stratification, mass culture development, and so forth are the basic societal transformations associated with capitalism. However, capitalist relations stimulate the development of initiative, practicality, innovativeness, entrepreneurial attitudes, and goal-orientationin individuals, thus, changing their viewpoints, reshaping social institutions, and modifying society as a whole (Casassas & Wagner, 2016, p. 164). What is more, capitalism-caused globalization has made society diverse and culturally heterogeneous, entailing the dissemination of tolerance, democratic principles, and liberal values throughout the world.

Furthermore, impacts of capitalist economies lead to the formation of the knowledge society. Knowledge and information are the main determinants of profitable economic relations. As noted by Phillips et al. (2017), market competition, demand for productivity, and struggle for consumer loyalty have become the driving forces of innovations, bringing about “fundamental changes in human values, ideological trends, social politics and economic structure” (p. 177). Individuals’ differences in educational and intellectual potential result in diverging employment opportunities and can be identified as the main factor of socioeconomic inequality. Accordingly, despite some alterations in its economic methods and underlying principles, capitalism is still influencing the contemporary society.

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The positive sides of capitalism are extensively described in the contemporary literature. As stated by Frieden and Rogowski (2014), its major advantage is “the extraordinary productive power that modern capitalism has unleashed, combining land, labor, capital, and human capital in ways that have increased output and income at a previously unimaginable pace” (p. 384). By doing so, capitalism managed to free many people from hard manual work and to foster greater demand for intellectual workforce. However, the given tendency threatens the survival of traditional craftsmanship that is characterized by smaller volumes of output and, usually, higher costs. As Frieden and Rogowski (2014) note, many artisans and farmers, whose work structures are often in line with traditional cultural practices, do not suit modern international markets and cannot survive in them. Thus, the preference for cheap, mass-produced goods by consumers and the choice of more profitable business systems by local entrepreneurs may negatively affect the regional cultural environment and make many customs vanish.

A possible mediatory way through which capitalism and mass production may affect culture is the change of social value orientation. According to Shahrier, Kotani, and Kakinaka (2016), “culture-gene coevolutionary theory argues that human beings learn ideas and culture through a social learning mechanism, and this cultural transmission shapes human behaviors and preferences along with genetical properties” (p. 0165067). It is possible to say that capitalism serves as such a social learning mechanism. It promotes the value of mass consumption and shortened product manufacturing cycles. Additionally, Shahrier et al. (2016) observe that, in capitalist societies, people tend to prefer competition over cooperation. It means they strive to gain more wealth, status, and prestige than others have. These findings may indicate that capitalism can largely contribute to the deterioration of interpersonal connections in communities and consequently lead to the overall worsening of the quality of life in the long run.

"A critical view of America's rapid economic growth"
“A critical view of America’s rapid economic growth” (2017).

Negative Implications of Capitalism in America: The Environmental Injustice

One of the issues that are frequently raised when discussing the adverse effects of capitalism is the environmental injustice problem. According to Faber (2018), the Americans are currently undergoing an “unparalleled assault” on their environment (p. 15). Because of the constant passion for higher profits and the danger of the growing global in the globalization era, business elites in the USA have started a political movement advocating decreased taxes and eliminated government regulation. The major driver of such a demand, according to Faber (2018), is the concession of traditional environmental regulations. Such a crucial change in global affairs has received a title neoliberalism.

The problem with neoliberalism is that it is a kind of political aggression posed on the regulatory accountability of the state. As a result, capitalism has become a trigger of corporate pollution in the USA (Faber, 2018). Corporations participating in the process of destructing the environment involve a large network of policy institutes, foundations, research centers, public relations companies, nonprofit organizations, and political action committees. Faber (2018) calls such an infrastructure the polluter-industrial complex and argues that it aims at discrediting the environmental movement and canceling the environmental justice principles. Therefore, the American capitalism serves as a system for destroying the three decades’ worth of progress reached by the environmental movement.

Whereas the negative impact of capitalism can be experienced by anyone, there are some groups of the population that are more affected than others. The most vulnerable of these are people belonging to the working class. Moreover, people of color and those that are below the poverty level are “selectively victimized” by the negative corporate environmental impact to the greatest extent (Faber, 2018, p. 16). The major problems caused by such effects include living close to waste sites or residing and working in the areas of highly polluting plants and factories. More than that, frequently, African American communities are highly exposed to natural disasters due to the lack of possibility to provide themselves with appropriate shelter from cataclysms.

Other population groups also suffer from capitalists’ anti-environmental actions. In particular, large corporations tend to destroy landscapes that are home places for Native Americans and Appalachian whites (Faber, 2016). One of the most recent cases that perfectly demonstrates the tragedy of the environmental injustice is Hurricane Katrina. The tragedy could have been mitigated if the corporate giants had not destroyed the marshlands around New Orleans (Faber, 2018). Thus, the implications of capitalism are far from being purely beneficial.

Another serious problem arising from neoliberal assaults on labor is the inequality of working conditions among the US employees. As Faber (2018) remarks, there is a disparity in such circumstances for Caucasians and workers of color. In particular, a larger number of occupational hazards is experienced by undocumented Mexican employees and Asian immigrants. Many of these individuals have no choice but to earn for a living by working in agricultural fields of Florida and California that are soaked with pesticides. What is even more dangerous is that the growing geographic mobility of capital makes corporations to reestablish their pollution spots in the Sunbelt, where no strict environmental laws are implemented (Faber, 2018). It can be concluded that while capitalism has presented enhanced job opportunities and other favorable features to the world market, it also has many disadvantages, the environmental pollution being among the most severe ones.

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Summing up, while researching the identified problems, it is important to evaluate the underlying features and characteristics of capitalism and industrialism, and understand whether the capitalist system can produce equally sufficient resources for all members of the society. It is essential to comprehend if it is appropriate for the elimination of inequality between people. In the given context, the expected results of the study will be the identification of links between capitalism and the quality of social life, as well as the correlation between mass production and the preservation of cultural conventions, namely, crafts and traditional livelihoods.


Casassas, D., & Wagner, P. (2016). Modernity and capitalism: Conceptual retrieval and comparative-historical analyses. European Journal of Social Theory, 19(2), 159-171. Web.

A critical view of America’s rapid economic growth [Image]. (2017). Web.

Faber, D. (2018). Capitalizing on environmental justice: The polluter-industrial complex in the age of globalization. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Frieden, J., & Rogowski, R. (2014). Modern capitalism: Enthusiasts, opponents, and reformers. In L. Neal & J. G. Williamson (Eds.), The Cambridge history of capitalism, vol. 2: The spread of capitalism: From 1848 to the present (pp. 384-425). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Greenberg, B. (2018). The dawning of American labor: The New Republic to the Industrial Age. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell.

Phillips, F., Yu, C., Hameed, T., & Akhdary, M. (2017). The knowledge society’s origins and current trajectory. International Journal of Innovation Studies, 1(3), 175-191. Web.

Shahrier, S., Kotani, K., & Kakinaka, M. (2016). Social value orientation and capitalism in societies. Plos One, 11(10), 0165067.

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