Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 16 No. 2 (Spring 2002)


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Retrospectives: Captains of Industry

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Dixon, Robert. 2002. "Retrospectives: Captains of Industry." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 16(2): 197-206.

DOI: 10.1257/0895330027193


This paper traces the origin and use of the term "captains of industry." Introduced by the Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle in the mid-nineteenth century, its meanings and associations were very different from today. For Carlyle, they were ferocious instruments of social control who would force the unemployed and idle to work and, if necessary, discipline them. The term, if not the meaning, rapidly entered the popular lexicon. It was brought into economics by Francis Walker, the first president of the AEA, who argued that the captain of industry was a fourth factor of production and the engine of industrial progress. While many other writers shared this view, Veblen did not.

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Dixon, Robert (University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)


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