Chapter 1: Business enterprises and the making of the modern world
Entrepreneurs and firms have been important actors in the making of our modern global world. Forty years ago this would not have needed to be said. As the pace of globalization speeded up from the 1960s, the term “multinational enterprise” (hereafter MNE) was coined, and there was an outpouring of discussion, much of it critical, about the political, social, and economic role of large global firms. MNEs were perceived to be so powerful that they posed a threat to the nation state. Yet as historians, economists and other scholars have discovered that globalization has a long history, so the role of business enterprises has tended to be written out of the script. The neglect of firms is apparent across disciplines. For several decades academic historians devoted almost no attention to business as such, as they focused on the role of culture, race, gender, and religion in historical developments. Mainstream historians, Beckert recently observed, “largely ceded interpretative hegemony when it comes to matters of economic change to economists, political scientists, sociologists, and a host of popular writers.” A renewal of interest in the “history of capitalism” is finally beginning to correct this peculiar omission.
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