Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present

Rate this book
Here’s the real history of our country. How Capitalism Saved America explodes the myths spun by Michael Moore, the liberal media, Hollywood, academia, and the rest of the anticapitalist establishment.

Whether it’s Michael Moore or the New York Times, Hollywood or academia, a growing segment in America is waging a war on capitalism. We hear that greedy plutocrats exploit the American public; that capitalism harms consumers, the working class, and the environment; that the government needs to rein in capitalism; and on and on. Anticapitalist critiques have only grown more fevered in the wake of corporate scandals like Enron and WorldCom. Indeed, the 2004 presidential campaign has brought frequent calls to re-regulate the American economy.

But the anticapitalist arguments are pure bunk, as Thomas J. DiLorenzo reveals in How Capitalism Saved America. DiLorenzo, a professor of economics, shows how capitalism has made America the most prosperous nation on earth—and how the sort of government regulation that politicians and pundits endorse has hindered economic growth, caused higher unemployment, raised prices, and created many other problems. He propels the reader along with a fresh and compelling look at critical events in American history—covering everything from the Pilgrims to Bill Gates.

And just as he did in his last book, The Real Lincoln, DiLorenzo explodes numerous myths that have become conventional wisdom. How Capitalism Saved America reveals:

• How the introduction of a capitalist system saved the Pilgrims from starvation
• How the American Revolution was in large part a revolt against Britain’s stifling economic controls
• How the so-called robber barons actually improved the lives of millions of Americans by providing newer and better products at lower prices
• How the New Deal made the Great Depression worse
• How deregulation got this country out of the energy crisis of the 1970s—and was not the cause of recent blackouts in California and the Northeast
• And much more

How Capitalism Saved America is popular history at its explosive best.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Thomas J. DiLorenzo

27 books162 followers
Thomas James DiLorenzo is an American economics professor at Loyola University Maryland. He identifies himself as an adherent of the Austrian School of economics. He is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and an associated scholar of the Abbeville Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Virginia Tech.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
308 (44%)
4 stars
222 (31%)
3 stars
110 (15%)
2 stars
35 (5%)
1 star
19 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Amora.
180 reviews136 followers
July 8, 2020
Should it really be controversial in 2020 to say that capitalism is the greatest economic system devised by man? It shouldn’t, but unfortunately it is. DiLorenzo, an economics professor at Loyola University, tells the story of how collective ownership of land in Jamestown nearly got most of the pilgrims killed and how it was private ownership that saved them. DiLorenzo also shows that the Founders despised mercantilism, a perverted variation of capitalism that involved state control of trade, because they understood it slowed down growth. This was my very first book I picked up from DiLorenzo and I wasn’t disappointed.
Profile Image for Brian.
335 reviews19 followers
November 26, 2011
When reading anything associated with the Von Mises institute you will always get a contrarian view to just about everything you learned in school. Nothing different in this great book by Prof. DiLorenzo.

Chapter 1: "What is Capitalism" points out the main ideas associated with this form of economy. Because everyone has different needs at different times, it is impossible for the economy to be centrally planned and have it work out, i.e Soviet Union, Cuba, & Old China among others. In a free market economy the division of labor is so important for increasing production and reducing costs, allowing the average person today to live better than Kings did several hundred years ago. The main concern in capitalism is property rights, people cannot fully expect to build wealth if their property is not protected from theft, damage or burdensome lawsuits.

Chapter 2: "Anti capitalism" discusses the powers that control the message the public gets, like teachers, ministers, priests, radio and television hosts, & writers of all sorts about how capitalism destroys rather than what it actually does which is create a better standard of living for all people. Anti capitalists see economic inequality and it never dawns on them that it is that way because people have different desires and talents and those have different value to the consumer. In the market place we are not coerced to buy products, its a transaction where one person wants a product or service more than they want their cash. With the anti capitalist who wants a more egalitarian society must do it through coercive actions because people work and strive for their own self interest, not to pay the sluggards way through life.

Chapter 3: "How capitalism saved the pilgrims" looks at how the lack of property rights in the beginning of our country led to a poor work ethic by those who were required to work hard for the communities well being rather than there own, leading to many deaths from starvation.

Chapter 4: "Americas capitalist revolt" discusses how the people rose up against the politicians who were again trying to bring about a mercantilist system even though they fought a revolution to stop abuses. The politicians could not retreat from the idea that government can help make it all better, even though under close examination its almost never the case.

Chapter 5: "Highways of Capitalism" In this chapter you will see that very little changes with human beings. The politicians 200 years ago thought the peoples money was theirs to do what they pleased, and today they still act the same way. Building highways and canals was a source of pain between the governing parties with those who wanted private business to get this done and those in government who wanted to tax and print to expand transportation. After reading this you'll see why we must be up in arms every time the government tries to push for more spending. In other words ready to be up in arms 24/7.

Chapter 6: "How capitalism enriched the working class" looks at how entrepreneurship, capital investment, & hard work created a better world for the working class. The more things that can be produced because of better equipment, more labor, better modes of transportation the better it is for everyone. People had it hard because of the lack of these things, not because the rich were exploiting the poor. This chapter shows why wages rose, why child labor & workplace accidents were declining, the real truth on income inequality, and some information on the beloved Labor Unions. The author asks the question that if Labor Unions are so good why do companies go to great lengths to avoid them.

Chapter 7: "The truth about the robber barons" we hear stories about the evil rich constantly, and there is no doubt there are some, but back in the 1800's many of the men who transformed the world were greatly enhancing it through innovation and reduced costs to the consumer.
He explains that more often than not, it was the men who were getting subsidized by the government who were the true robber barons. Many being subsidized failed while the giants of industry, Vanderbilt, Carnegie & Rockefeller made amazing advancements in production of their particular industry, controlling large percentages of it but still lowering costs for the consumer, so much for monopolies.

Chapter 8: "Antitrust myths" In this chapter you can easily sour on any remaining love you have for the goodness of government. When government helps it almost always hurts the consumer.

Chapter 9: "Did capitalism cause the great depression" Of course not, but government officials & classroom teachers and the average citizen sure seems to think it did. Why is it when Presidents have cut the size of government and lowered regulations the economy gets back to growing. DiLorenzo goes over some of the causes from the hyperactive state and why they lead to years of pain for the American middle class and poor, leaving less ability to create wealth for themselves and others by the rich.

Chapter 10: "How the new deal crippled capitalism" For those who love FDR he does not fare well here nor should he. If you don't feel like reading this chapter just look at President Obama and that should sum it up for you. Its funny how FDR condemned deficit spending in his
campaigning then exceeded anything Hoover would do. Its funny that one of his main economic advisors Rexford Tugwell was sympathetic to communism (Van Jones) and his own staff was tired of him spending money as unemployment remained high. (Do you see a parallel) Why we hold people like this in esteem is beyond me, the author sure doesn't.

Chapter 11: "Did capitalism cause the energy crises" Just like in every case if the free market capitalist were left alone to do the job that benefits themselves the most, with the government doing its job of protecting property, and prosecuting those who harm others property there would be no crises anywhere. This chapter goes through all the ways the government stands in the way of progress. If you don't get in bed with government as big business they will eventually come after you with regulations or antitrust lawsuits. (Ask Bill Gates) The author is not claiming that anyone can be free to do bad things, but until bad things are done they should be left alone. When this chapter looks at some de-regulation in the energy industry, as with others, it is evident that things get better.

The conclusions drawn at the end chapter are that there is a war on capitalism, from those who really don't understand how markets work, who don't understand that people bring different talents to the workplace and will earn more or less depending on what those are. Everytime we turn around another road block is put up in front of businesses across the country, making it more expensive and dangerous to do business. Entrepreneurs have to spend time sucking up to government rather than focusing on innovation. Think about how worked up you get when you have to follow silly rules at a job, now think about how you'd feel if you had to pay to follow those silly rules. That's what business owners live with every day.
Profile Image for Kevin.
11 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2009
A great antidote to the anticapitalist myths that seem to be getting ever stronger in this country. I recently read some of my little brother's American History textbook, which (for one example) treated FDR as some kind of god rather than a misguided leader with semi-fascist views. This book presents the good side of capitalism, which we ignore at our peril.
Profile Image for Chris.
8 reviews
February 17, 2015
Never before has the reading of a book stirred me to violent action against the book itself (I threw it against the wall).

After having thoroughly enjoyed his attack on Lincoln as an amoralist mercantilist in chapter 5, I was then coldcocked unawares by this bit of soulless capitalist ideology in chapter 6 (in reference to a Ludwig von Mises affirmation of the righteousness of early 19th century factory jobs):

The same can be said of the conditions in some of the world's less-developed countries today. Those who deplore "child labor" and "sweatshops" fail to recognize or acknowledge that as deplorable as these conditions may seem by the standards of modern-day America, these people are much better off for having the opportunity to work in a higher-paying factory.

Overcome by this particularly loathsome pathological (ir)rationalization for imperialist capitalism and corporate multinational servitude, the book was thrown against the wall. Rage needs an outlet.

I can't go on, I will go on to finish this book, however. I'm curious to explore the magnitude of the vacancies in soulless ideology. Surely, Mr. DiLorenzo has never read a book such as Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, but if he had, then he would find that holding such misguided opinions is the intellectual equivalent of being a creationist who doesn't believe in dinosaurs. He believes what he needs to rationalize what he wants: more money.

Profile Image for Jim Dowdell.
155 reviews7 followers
February 4, 2020
This is text book informative from entry level till graduate level- fun filled facts and wide window on entrepreneur greats and a window on the war by the anti-industry industry. I highly recommend this book for everyone interested in how our civilization evolved and as a reminder of how easy we could lose it. Not suitable for Micheal Moore, useful idiots, or other socialists. For rational reasonable individuals who are interested in how to help make the world a better place, this book is not a waste of time.
Profile Image for Tyler L..
9 reviews
August 26, 2013
This book was better than I anticipated. It was organized very well and succeeded in drawing distinctions between capitalism and mercantilism. DiLorenzo, an economist by trade, has become a remarkable student of history with his many years of research and writing.

DiLorenzo covers the most essential topics:

-The collectivized agriculture of the Pilgrims causes starvation until they implemented private property rights.

-The mercantilism of the American colonies led to their capitalist revolt in 1775.

-The government subsidies for "internal improvements" that mistakenly get credit for the creation of infrastructure in America.

-The truth about the "Robber Barons" of the 19th century and how antitrust laws were not pushed by consumers, but rather pushed by less successful businessmen who could not compete.

-The chapter on the government's response to the Great Depression in 1929 is the best explanation I have ever read on the topic. Herbert Hoover was nothing close to a laissez-faire President. He paved the way for FDR.

-The most surprising part of the book was its extensive information on how government intervention has crippled the energy industry in America. This is especially sad to read about after hearing about how promising it was in the days of John D. Rockefeller and before the Sherman Antitrust Act.

-The concluding chapter covers the assault on Microsoft and makes a compelling case for the dire need of tort reform in America. Lawyers are destroying this country and their power to do so has only grown in the past few decades. Personal responsibility is in the process of being wiped out in America.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history and/or economics. Like a few of my other favorite economic history books, this one is short, sweet and to the point!
13 reviews3 followers
October 28, 2008
This book is an excellent presentation on the problems of government 'regulations' into free market mechanisms. This book illustrates simply and clearly how many chaotic economic problems were actually caused by interference from government regulations.

Many historical examples are cited, from how Governor Bradford in the days of the Pilgrims ended communal property ownership (thus ending a long period of starvation), to how free market capitalist James J. Hill (railroad tycoon) outperformed his competitors (who received land grants and per-mile track laying subsidies) and engendered tremendous goodwill with those he served. All the while, his competitors were almost universally disliked.

How capitalism really lays the groundwork for sound thinking on such seemingly daunting topics such as anti-trust laws, to how economies of scale are achieved. I enjoyed this book very much. I found it illuminating, and very useful in furthering my understanding of why I feel and think the way I do about free enterprise and voluntary society.

I am very grateful to the users of freedombookclub.com for selecting this book.
Profile Image for David Robins.
342 reviews22 followers
August 9, 2011
Takes on and sets straight the anticapitalists that blame a straw-man capitalism for the ills of collectivist states, illustrating how capitalism preserved the pilgrims, enriched the working man, increased people's standard of living, and how it is wrongly blamed for the (mercantilist, crony "capitalist") robber barons, Great Depression, was harmed by the New Deal - which dragged out the Depression - and how price controls result in shortages, with the energy crisis as prime example. There is a chapter on the antitrust witch hunt, too, pointing out its political motivations in connection with competitors who, failing in the economic arena, felt it necessary to use what Oppenheimer would call the political means rather than providing a better product or service. Since it was written in 2004 it doesn't get to the housing bubble (see Woods or Sowell for that). Not quite as in-depth as Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms, but a far easier read in exchange. It is an excellent resource to answer anticapitalist critics of liberty, emphasizing the economic liberty of free markets and voluntary trade unhampered by theft and regulation.
Profile Image for Catherine Burns.
92 reviews
January 21, 2018
I disliked the one sided view of this book (in its defence, I guess the clue's in the title). This, together with the arrogant, slightly sneery tone with which it's written added to the whole sorry experience - if it wasn't a library book it would have got hurled across the room on multiple occasions.
10 reviews
May 22, 2009
In How Capitalism Saved America, DiLorenzo tells the story of America from Jamestown to present. DiLorenzo explains how capitalism has both been the primary driver of our country's success, and is constantly under attack from those who would advocate additional government control. He contrasts capitalism with mercantilism very clearly, and explains that in almost all cases, when the public criticizes capitalism, they are really criticizing mercantilism. A great example is 'corporate welfare.' Capitalism is 100% against corporate welfare. Imposing tariffs on foreign steel is the opposite of capitalism: it decreases competition, and raises the prices on every product that uses steel.

One of the most poignant stories in the book deals with the colony at Jamestown. As Americans, we all know the story of the challenges these first settlers suffered. DiLorenzo tells the story through the writings of the settlers themselves. When the colony was originally established, the settlers were indentured servants, and had little motivation to prosper because all of their labor went towards the success of the Virginia company. Without reward for effort, the settlers failed to capitalize on the fertile Virginia soil, and many perished in the cold winters. Recognizing this, one of the leaders of the settlement implemented a partial ownership policy for the indentured servants. This meant they were able to keep a portion of their labor for themselves. The settlement began to prosper, and the rest is history.

The interesting stories are too many to summarize, but most have the same message: Capitalism promotes entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs succeed by providing services people want at lower prices than the competition. Government serves only to get in the way. If this book doesn't make you a capitalist, please let me know what you are reading. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Profile Image for Mikel.
347 reviews19 followers
October 4, 2011
One of the best books I've ever read. It answered many of the questions I've been pondering on for a long time. Some of my favorite statistics from the book:

"Only 5 percent of families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution in 1975 were still there in 1991. More than three-fourths of them had made their way up to the two highest income quintiles."

"Less than 1 percent of the sample population remained in the bottom 20 percent during the entire time period under study"

This book is a great place to start understanding the influences and philosophies that have shaped our country. I can't recommend it highly enough if you, like me, have ever had questions about the great depression, the new deal, environmentalists, the California energy crisis and more.
Profile Image for Daniel Moss.
157 reviews6 followers
April 19, 2016
All we ever hear is a one-sided version of history, politics, and economics. This book dispels the commonly held beliefs in monopolies, trust-busting, union wages, child labor, robber barons, the 'new deal', government regulations, and the blame that capitalist receives for things that either are the fault of the government or mercantilism, not capitalism.

Easy to read, good prose, explained well! Definitely a high recommendation from me.
Profile Image for Douglas Wilson.
Author 234 books3,395 followers
July 6, 2009
DiLorenzo is one of those unenviable writers whose task it is, in this age of Obama, to prove that water doesn't flow uphill. He does a great job.
Profile Image for Felix de la Montana.
57 reviews2 followers
October 27, 2017
More appropriately titled 'How Capitalism Built America', the book argues in favor of letting business, rather than social engineering via government, build civilization.
Profile Image for M.J. Payne.
Author 1 book17 followers
December 16, 2020
This little gem of a book explains Capitalism clearly, with entertaining writing. It is a fast read. If you are tired of tomes that obfuscate economics you will like this one.
Let me ask you one question. What motivates you to work? I mean really put your heart into it. Prospering from your blood, sweat, and tears and owning property, seeing yourself and your family in good economic condition, and having some fun might be some of the reasons. One more question. Do you like to do other people's work and your own and get paid the same amount of money? If you do, then socialism is for you.
I can't resist another question. Do you see capitalists as a bunch of money grubbing slime balls who are always out to get something for nothing? Robber barons? If you do you are confusing that with mercantilism. Yes, there are people who make a lot of money getting government contracts when they are unqualified or unable to produce a sturdy product for a fair price. That is corrupt.
To quote from this book "In a free-market system, individuals and groups pursue profit by providing consumers with goods and services, and the rule of law and a code of morality protect the rights of property, contract, and association. But some people will always try to operate outside the bounds of free-market capitalism by securing special favors from government."
There are your robber barons. They aren't capitalists.
Now I don't want you to think I am against giving or charity. But you have to be able to feed your family before you have money to give to needy people.
The fact is that people are motivated to work when they keep their money and prosper from their efforts. When their property is protected and their Constitutional Rights observed. They will even feel grateful and give. There is a blessing associated with giving with a smiling heart.
Profile Image for Russ.
32 reviews
October 6, 2012
How Capitalism Saved America takes concrete, historical examples from American history, some of which have been turned into anti-capitalist myths, and shows how capitalism was and is essential to this country's progress and survival. Some of the usual myths perpetuated by the anti-capitalists are presented and shown to be inaccurate; however, some of the best material deals with first colonies and Pilgrims.
Profile Image for Gabriel Richard.
2 reviews1 follower
July 1, 2011
Thoroughly enjoyed this book and the little known facts that aren't taught in school regarding the actions of individuals to achieve ends that the state and any governing body can only dream of. From tackling the "Gilded Age" to "Robber Barrons" and the "New Deal," This book surprises and well informs of the benefits of a free society.
8 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2008
This book is far more useful and interesting than any of my history classes. I now wish I had studied economics in college. Unfortunately, many of our country's leaders have not learned from history. This book makes it really simple.
Profile Image for Bryan.
155 reviews3 followers
December 7, 2011
It took me a while to get through this, but I did enjoy it. I thought a better title would have been "The Attack on American Capitalism". Many interesting ideas presented. I see history repeating itself today with some of the slogans I hear and some of the news reports.
147 reviews4 followers
February 13, 2009
Another good book for anyone looking to understand politics and economics.... providing the counter argument for those tired of the old leftist argument against capitalism!
Profile Image for Tim Speer.
5 reviews
July 13, 2010
This book by DiLorenzo is excellent and should be required reading for all graduating High School Students!
Profile Image for Mike.
4 reviews
July 26, 2013
Fantastic! Shines light on capitalism and how social responsibility is diminishing. The politicians are at fault
Profile Image for Christian Orton.
300 reviews11 followers
July 18, 2018
This might be my favorite book ever. Read during our trip to Boston, so I was able to walk and see so many of the historical examples he uses.
167 reviews
October 2, 2022
I was really looking forward to reading a book about capitalism. What I felt like I got was an angry man shouting at anyone who wasn’t a true and complete supporter of pure capitalism and calling every critic no matter to what degree an anti capitalist. He also lumps all intellectuals into one anti capitalist pot. This didn’t set the stage for me to be open to the authors arguments.

DiLorenzo is highly critical of all government intervention. It seems that no level of government is acceptable in DiLorenzo’s capitalistic world. I don’t see that being realistic or if he believes it is, he doesn’t explain how that would work. I was truly hoping to learn what ideal role government would play to support capitalism without squelching it. I didn’t get a single mention of this, only criticism.

I do believe in capitalism, however, I also believe there are some industries where profit and profit alone has not been working well. Healthcare is one. If a patient is cured then there’s no room for long term money to be made. So there’s no incentive to really help people. The food industry is another one. Creating foods by a Cravability expert to addict customers to a companies unhealthy food is criminal. And to say that people have choices not to buy these products doesn’t take into account social pressures or true addiction. DiLorenzo also states that the book Silent Spring is a “fable about the allegedly disastrous effects of pesticides”. Granted this book was copyrighted in 2004, but to grossly simplify the book and say that no pesticide is harmful for the environment or for human consumption is astonishing to me even back then (it’s now 2022).

DiLorenzo does not mention racism on any level. And racism is one key deterrent to a minority person being able to move past the entry level job making a non livable wage that DiLorenzo says is meant to be a temporary position. And it’s more often not for a lack of work ethic that these ceilings are unbreakable as DiLorenzo would like you to believe.

I was looking for answers or at least some thoughtful ideas on how to work together to strengthen our country and all I got was divisiveness and more unanswered questions.
May 18, 2018
A great and informative read

I already had a pretty good grasp of the economics of capitalism, but now thanks to another great book by Thomas DiLorenzo, my understanding is former and clearer. I feel ready now to refute the often thoughtless claims by duped Americans, victims of the government's indoctrination and self aggrandizing myths. I wish I had this knowledge when I was growing up in the public school system!
Profile Image for Jon.
174 reviews7 followers
October 21, 2019
Great book on how the free market functions and how it is painted as "evil" by people that don't understand what mercantilism is. It also busts myths throughout history of what really caused many of the major problems in the business arena/government arena.

Unfortunately the book painted too rosy of a picture of the free market making it seem like it is a perfect utopia rather than a flawed beast which is better than the alternative.
35 reviews
December 10, 2019
If there ever was a corrective work to the larger picture of American History, this is it. With great care Professor DiLorenzo goes through many well-known stories of American History where Capitalism played a role and shows how Capitalism played its role without sending it through the junk filters of Marxism or Keynesianism. I would gladly assign this as a textbook to any high school or college-level American History course.
Profile Image for Booklooker21.
27 reviews
March 24, 2021
This book basically boils down to:
Government intervention = bad
People associating freely and buying goods and services from each other = good
Also “he who governs least, governs best”.
The book took awhile to read because of how far our country has fallen with regards to capitalism and socialism. I read this in 2020-2021. Ugh. He kind of ends the book on a downer note.
28 reviews
January 11, 2021
Excellent book that highlights some of the many unknowns about the role of capitalism throughout the course of US history while challenging some of the narratives in regards to its role in the Depression. Highly recommended.
12 reviews1 follower
January 15, 2020
An instructive eye-opener and a much-needed reminder of why free enterprise is the way to go, even as uncertainty grips our time and muddled thinking confuses our faculty of reason.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.