United States, 1800-2000
As demonstrated in “The American Economy” (2016), asset value analysis provides the tools to quantify the scope and scale of economic development in historical context. The initial world asset map revealed the concentrations of natural resources, physical infrastructure, and human capital around the world in 2012. The data sets demonstrating the evolution of global capital since 3500 BCE reveal the flaws in the neoliberal politics of late capitalism as well as the fundamental flaws in economic concepts like GDP. Using asset value provides an institutional investment praxis to create new forms of sustainable wealth creation that restore a global sense of common wealth that has been distorted for five centuries.
In this first snapshot, analysts can begin to understand the creation of the first (un)free markets in human history. The United States in 1800 stopped at the Mississippi River, and over 80% of the physical infrastructure for the nation laid within fifty miles of the Atlantic coast. In 2010 dollars, the asset value of the country was just over $119 billion. In comparison, Apple (as a corporation) is worth almost one trillion dollars alone in 2018. The core of early American commercial growth was Philadelphia (though Charleston was also very important). In this pre-industrial setting, the importance of converting natural resources into physical infrastructure is immediately apparent. The geographic features of the southeastern Pennsylvania region enabled the rapid creation of a thriving commercial center, surrounded by a variety of residential neighborhoods. The rigid geometry of the roadways reflected the idealism of a revolutionary generation in pursuit of a democratic society that rejected the privileges of imperial monarchy.
However, by 1900, a starkly different architecture shaped the booming, industrial metropolis of New York City. The consolidation of the continental United States, including the new acquired territories of Cuba and the Philippines, showed that the practices of free markets could incorporate the ambitions of industrial empire. The United States achieved an asset value exceeding $2 trillion by this point. That figure is roughly a quarter of the asset value of the United Kingdom at the same time, and approximately a third of the Australian economy in 2012. The emergence of massive national corporations, especially banks, railroads, and oil companies, caused the local asset value of New York City to reach $129 billion, dwarfing Philadelphia’s dominance a century earlier. The central control of assets through New York firms only trailed the power of London’s economic reach at its Victorian peak. Across the United States, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Dallas followed the model that New York symbolized. The core of American asset value at the start of the twentieth century sustained small industrial centers like Newark, Trenton, Camden, Baltimore, Norfolk, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit in addition to these larger cities. While Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx consolidated into the modern New York City, commercial and residential infrastructure remains concentrated along the East River. Long Island and the northern suburbs remained distant hinterlands in the countryside.
Over the next century, transportation and communications technologies would utterly transform the landscape and metropolitan design of the United States and the world. Foremost in this unprecedented revolution were the automobile and the television. They were the keys to the commercial emergence of the United States as a world superpower after the end of the Second World War. The United States was the unchallenged leader in the world economy by 2010 with over $123 trillion in asset value. New York remained the largest of the metropolitan economies within the country, worth almost $4 trillion in asset value. The second largest economy in the world was Japan ($20 trillion), and a dozen American cities were worth at least $1 trillion. Hundreds of American cities housed economies as large as Philadelphia has been 200 years earlier. In the specific case of New York, the emergent design of its economic system became known as the ‘megapolitan’. In lay terms, the region between Boston and Washington, D.C., became a massive city – the richest region in the world. Ten other megapolitans existed in the United States by 2010, and there were twelve more worldwide. Human capital became the distinguishing feature of megapolitan growth as service industries like medicine, finance, and software engineering became the dominant industries for growth in the twenty-first century.
Astonishingly, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, achieved a personal net worth of $139 billion in 2018. A single person today is richer than the wealthiest city in North America was a century earlier. This process is the accumulated power of (un)free market capitalism. By 2100, there will be a person worth a trillion dollars (or, perhaps, it will be measured in Bitcoin by that point). They will likely control the accumulation of personal data through social media, or, more likely, detailed genetic profiles of terrestrial life (human, animal, and plant) for both experimentation and marketing. There are even suggestions to repeat the colonial processes of the nineteenth century beneath the sea and across the solar system. Neoliberalism will commodify every cell and atom, every asteroid and planet, in the name of efficiency and productivity unless a revolutionary commitment to balance and dignity occurs.
United States, Asset Value, 1800-2000