Carnegie Created “Plausible Fictions” on the Future Demand for Minor Railroads

Economists and historians continue to debate the importance or unimportance of railroads in the economic growth of the United States. This is a debate that I need to explore more.

(p. 129) It is doubtful that either [Scott or Carnegie] . . . truly believed that the new railroads, when built, would carry enough traffic to earn back their construction costs. A great number of them were along lightly traveled routes, which, like the Gilman, Springfield & Clinton Railroad in Illinois, connected small cities that did little business with one another. The roads were being built because money could be made building them. Carnegie profited from the commissions on the bond sales; Scott from diverting funds earmarked for construction into the hands of the select number of investors, himself included, who were directors of both the railroad and the improvement companies.

To raise money for roads not yet built and probably not really needed, Carnegie and Scott trafficked in what Richard White refers to as “the utilitarian fictions of capitalism.” Together, they constructed “plausible fictions” about the railroads, the passengers and freight that would ride them, the tolls that would be collected, the villages that would grow into towns and the towns into cities, creating new populations, products, and commerce.
Carnegie, a consummate optimist, took naturally to the task.

Source:
Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: bracketed words and ellipsis added.)
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

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