The Political Economy of the Pacific Northwest: A Surplus Approach
The dissertation is comprised of three independent essays. Each essay examines the process of qualitative change in the provisioning process from a different vantage, while remaining fixed in relation to the Columbia River. Among the three essays the period 1866 to 1945 is covered. The first essay examines development of the region's railroad system, and the aspirations on the part of its financiers to realize speculative gains. The region is situated in the context of the post Civil War imperial stance of the state, and the rise of global finance. It is argued that while other colonial processes had operated in the region since the arrival of the fur trappers, construction of railroads embodied a watershed in the commitment for absentee owners to engage in transformational development. The second essay traces the emergence of the electric utility globally, and in reference to the Pacific Northwest. It is argued that the electric utility emerges directly from the railroad - finance nexus. Key social relationships are explored that explain the emergence of the electric utility as a going concern, with particular emphasis placed upon Henry Villard. Villard's financial connections were instrumental in establishing the markets in which Edison's patents would become successful in general. Villard's relationship with Edison, both social and pecuniary in nature, would shape the subsequent process of electrification for the region. The third essay argues that transformation of the Columbia River basin into a hydrological machine emerges as a response to the abuses of the electric utilities. Development of the basin for power, navigation, and irrigation were viewed as a means by which the inhabitants of the region might break the colonial yoke under which the utilities absentee owners had placed them. Private utilities had squandered the wealth embodied in the social technology, failing to provision inhabitants of the region with electricity uniformly at a fair rate. Utilities at the base of a holding company pyramid were used to extract surplus incomes from ratepayers, in part, by inflating their rate bases. Moreover, private utilities wielded political power and worked to undermine efforts to institute municipal or public power projects. Such tension was felt regionally and nationally, galvanzing a countervailing force capable of ushering in large-scale, public, hydroelectric projects. Notwithstanding the dreams of New Deal planners, the Organic Machine would be placed into the narrower service of powering the WWII aluminum plant.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Of railroads and finance -- The emergence of the electric utility -- This dam machine kills fascists -- Conclusion