Business, College of


Date of this Version

June 2003


Published in the Journal of Economic Issues Volume XXXVII, No. 2, June 2003. Copyright © 2003, Journal of Economic Issues. Used by permission.


In the 1890s, British cattle companies drove large herds into the sparsely settled grasslands of Nebraska like an invading army. Immediately, the drovers started killing homesteaders, who were always shot on the homesteader’s land at the plow or mower to clarify that it was the homesteading that was the capital offense. The cattle companies fenced public lands and paid others to file claims on their behalf, all in clear violation of the law but protected because they controlled the courts, bought political influence, and continued to intimidate. Many homesteaders refused to be intimidated. They contested the phony homesteads and testified against the companies, and some were killed because of their legal activity. The homesteaders prevailed because in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the arrest of a leading cattle company boss for fencing public lands. The boss was let off with a small fine, after which he was treated to a champagne dinner provided by the federal marshal in Omaha, Nebraska. Roosevelt fired the marshal and replaced him with a man who enforced the law. The cattle companies were removed from the land, and individual settlers built the ranches (Charles H. Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter, September 2002).

I tell of this situation for two reasons. The first is to note the difference between the reaction against the corporations then and now. Large companies were not symbols of high status and authority to which citizens automatically deferred with a fundamental asymmetry of authority. Second, the bit of history clarifies that a major determinant of the economy is politics. My discussion today deals with issues of one kind of political system, that of democracy. Instrumentalists have a special concern for democracy. The instrumental approach developed as a result of the integration of democratic policy making and science, an integration compelled by democracy. For instrumentalism to continue to develop and to continue to successfully assist in policy making, democracy needs to be a viable institution for guiding social inquiry.

Included in

Business Commons