Who Makes Cents: An Interview with Nan Enstad

Nan Enstad, Alex Beaseley, and David P. Stein discuss Cigarettes, Inc. on the latest episode of Who Makes Cents: A History of Capitalism Podcast.

“The multinational corporation is a pervasive institution. For example, it’s nearly impossible to listen to a podcast without interacting with one. But what is the history of this thing we call the multinational corporation? And who gets to count as its constituents?

Today, we investigate this topic and how it has been shaped by cigarettes—from the workers who grew the tobacco to those who governed the tobacco companies. And we discuss what this history can tell us about race, gender, region and geography.”

Check out the episode here!

Excerpt: Cigarettes Are Central to the History of Corporate Power

Truthout.org has published an excerpt from Cigarettes, Inc.

In Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism, author Nan Enstad reveals how the definitive moments in the expansion of corporate power took place through one of capitalism’s deadliest commodities. Challenging the centrality of the entrepreneur to the story, Enstad instead presents a global history in which Jim Crow, jazz and empire are central to the rise of the mass-produced cigarette.

You can read the full excerpt over at TruthOut!



Boston Review: Debunking the Capitalist Cowboy

Ladies Home Journal,  1948

Ladies Home Journal, 1948

A new piece in the Boston Review on the mythology of the entrepreneur.

Capitalism, like the United States itself, has a mythology, and for five decades one of its central characters has been the nineteenth-century maverick cigarette entrepreneur, James B. Duke. Duke’s risk-taking investment in the newfangled machine-made cigarette, so the story goes, displaced the pricey, hand-rolled variety offered by his stodgy competitors. This, in turn, won Duke control of the national, and soon global, cigarette market. Repeated ad nauseam in business and history journals, high school and university curricula, popular magazines, and websites, the story has taught that disruptive innovation drives capitalist progress.

You can read the piece in full over at Boston Review!

Modern American History: What Are We Talking about When We Talk about Economy?

Published an essay in Modern American History’s Soapbox section,The ‘Sonorous Summons’ of the New History of Capitalism, Or, What Are We Talking about When We Talk about Economy?”

A short description and link to the essay follows:

The tale reads as a classic fall from grace. In the 1960s and 1970s, historians investigated the economy. They were serious and politically relevant. But then the discipline fell to the beguiling ways of cultural and social history. Fractured and fragmented, scholars wandered off like cats into various alleyways, pawed at incomprehensible theories, and lost track of the common reader. There is hope, however, because in the past decade or so a new movement has arisen to lead historians out of the obscure alleyways and back to the main path: the economy, so long neglected.

The full text of the essay is available over at Modern American History.

Washington Post: Made by History

In the Washington Post today!

How Gov. Evers can make Foxconn work for Wisconsin

When Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers takes office today, he inherits responsibility for the largest subsidy to a foreign company in American history: up to $4.7 billion has been promised to the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, manufacturer of Apple iPhones and other electronics, to build an LCD manufacturing plant and related facilities, the company’s first such plant outside Asia.

Since its announcement in July 2017, the Foxconn deal has produced waves of controversy over its potential impact on workers, communities, the environment and the state’s coffers. Many worry that this will be a massive boondoggle that enriches a foreign company without actually benefiting Wisconsin workers or communities. Evers has promised to renegotiate the deal to ensure that Foxconn is a “good corporate citizen” to the state.

To do so he should study the events of a century ago, when the British American Tobacco Company (BAT) made a similar direct investment in China. BAT, one of the world’s first multinational companies, had a bold vision: build operations from the ground up, including new production facilities, distribution hubs and other linked business facilities in China….

Edge Effects Magazine: Tobacco’s World of Racial Capitalism

An interview with historian Drew Swanson about Cigarettes, Inc. and tobacco’s world of racial capitalism over at Edge Effects Magazine.

Drew Swanson: The part of the story of cigarettes that we often hear is all about James B. Duke and the monopolistic power of the American Tobacco Company. Can you tell listeners how we’ve gotten that story wrong?

Nan Enstad: My project went from a story about the culture of smoking to a cultural analysis of the corporation. I became convinced that we have only begun to question how neoclassical economics has shaped the way that we tell stories about political economy and empire. A lot of the hype about the power of Duke that has been ensconced in history came from boosters and biographers and business historians, some of whom were being paid by the tobacco companies. So there’s an inflated sense of power.

British-American Tobacco Company cigarette factory, probably in Hankow, China, Richard Henry Gregory Papers, Duke University Libraries

British-American Tobacco Company cigarette factory, probably in Hankow, China, Richard Henry Gregory Papers, Duke University Libraries