North America Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1504 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Economics

North America

Assessing the drivers, both physical and cultural, of North American commerce is almost too easy. First, there was Plymouth Rock....and so on. In fact, however, it is difficult to imagine North America without New York City, perhaps even more than Boston, the city that nominally initiated the new world's separation from the old via the Boston Tea Party.

Still, all along the east coast of North America, there were harbors to accommodate both shipping and fishing, from Nova Scotia to the Florida Straits. Inland from there was an almost unimaginable treasure of natural resources with precious few inhabitants guarding it. In any case, most of those inhabitants, Native Americans, did not fight for their land because they believed it was not theirs to begin with, that they simply were living on it.

The bases for antique economies on the North American continent are simple to define. They were economies of continuous expansion right up to the present, in many ways.

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Every schoolchild knows that the abundant rivers and rapids on the East Coast allowed the development of knitting mills and the clothing industry. As farmland grew more expensive, people moved westward. The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, linked the waters of Lake Erie (and the lands beyond the lake) and the Hudson River (and New York City, and the world) to the east (Erie Canal Web site 2000-2005). It opened up the nation west of the Appalachian Mountains, creating the midwestern breadbasket.

Exploiting the west

Term Paper on North America Assignment

At the same time, the continent was being broached from the west. While the California Gold Rush would bring numbers of 'gold diggers' to that state in the 1840s, as early as 1784, "The first wave of resource extraction -- the fur trade -- hit the Northwest coast...." (Durning 1996, 28+). Two ships, the remains of English explorer James Cook's voyage, reached China carrying a few hundred otter skins, and opening the Far East as a trading partner. "During a stopover on Vancouver Island, crew members traded for otter furs from the Indians, preparing for the frozen North. These furs were still on board when Lieutenant James King went to visit the mandarins in Canton. He took twenty with him and came back with $800 in silver" (Durning 1996, 28+). This was the beginning of exploitation of the northwest's natural resources, and was followed by several other lucrative trading possibilities. In the 1880s, it turned out that gold discovered in Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho was simply the prelude to a decades-long run of silver mining in the area.

Also found there, and elsewhere along the Continental Divide straddling the U.S. And Canada, were deposits of copper which, when electricity became the power of choice, were immensely valuable (Durning 1996, 28+).

In fact, it is difficult to comprehend the development of the North American continent without Ben Franklin and his kite; the Genius of Menlo Park, Thomas Alva Edison, and; a continent full of powerful rivers and waterfalls. Indeed, if anything is at the base of modern economics in North America, it is electricity. Butte, Montana, which produced one-fourth of all the copper mined globally in 1900, certainly had to play a major role in the electricity industry on the continent.

While gold and silver are fundamental wealth-building commodities, and electricity was certainly a unique, exotic-at-first, but vital one, more traditional industries, also helped build the diverse economy of North America. Fishing, which had been a factor of prosperity in the East since the first settlers caught their dinner, also drove economies along the western coastline. Commercial fishing first took hold in lower Columbia (Canada) in 1880, heading south to Puget Sound and northwest to Alaska at various intervals after that (Durning 1996, 28+). Fish was so cheap and plentiful that Northwest salmon canneries produced enough one-pound tins a year to circle the globe at the height of the industry's catch (Durning 1996, 28+). In fact, even "A net fisherman who could protect a good spot on the river would get rich. The hamlet of Chinook, Washington, where they congregated, was briefly one of the most affluent small towns in the country" (Durning 1996, 28+).

Agriculture, which had populated the center of the nation, was slower to drive the economy from the west, but eventually, after the New Deal dams provided irrigation waters in the 1930s and beyond, western Oregon's "loamy" Willamette Valley was a major agricultural contributor, as was the cattle industry around the Puget Sound, where herders slightly inland tapped the fertile native grasses (Durning 1996, 28+).

The United States had constructed a continental railway linking east and west by the 1880s. Along with the links to already abundant north-south routes in the United States, transportation of goods and people across the continent, despite its size, was very good and very reliable. Because North America had never been seriously invaded from outside after the Revolution (the War of 1812 was relatively limited), its march toward prosperity was not seriously derailed even by the Great Depression, although certainly that decade-long event took its toll. World War II, however, actually had a positive effect on various segments of the North American continent's economy. From 1950 to 1975, the cattle count in the west climbed, based on grain-feeding of livestock, rather than the native grass feeding that had begun the industry around Puget Sound. By 1993, the cattle herd had shrunk by fifteen percent, and in the area, it employed fewer than photo finishing or landscaping did (Durning 1996, 28+).

Agriculture is still a driver of the North American economy, however. Damming rivers for irrigation of the more arid regions of the west solidified it during the 1950s. The dams also produced inexpensive hydroelectric power. As Durning points out, hydropower is also needed to produce plutonium, a process requiring enormous amounts of electricity (Durning 1996, 28+). The fact that the western rivers could provide it doubtless helped the United States create its enormous nuclear arsenal of the 1960s, acting as a deterrent-protector for the entire continent.

Logging is another western industry that has driven the economy, at various times, from Alaska to California. When logging began in the west:

Each acre groaned under the mass of (timber); in the coastal lowlands, an acre might carry one thousand metric tons of plant matter including two hundred Douglas fir trees. Each the girth of an elephant and taller than the Statue of Liberty, one of these arboreal Goliaths could supply a farm house, barn, and garden fence....(Durning 1996, 28+).

Today's prospects

Although it would seem that North America could not have much remaining in the way of natural resources to exploit to keep an economy humming, in fact it still has abundant resources. Some of the 'abundance' has shifted from the United States to Canada. Canada now supplies about 14% of U.S. natural gas requirements, with new fields being developed off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Additional deposits are thought to lie beneath much of Canada and extending into Alaska (Nivola 2002, 24+).

The deposits on the east coast could "bring an end to New England's anomalous dependence on heating oil" (Nivola 2002, 24+), a negative economic factor.

Indeed, the most negative factors in the North American economies at the moment seem to derive from a dependence on the single thing the continent lacks in abundance, relative to the Middle East: oil. Whether the Iraq war was actually begun over it is partly moot. (on the other hand, the costs of that war, both financially and in terms of public morale, are substantial as well. Fortunately, Canada is not involved to any great degree, except as a commonwealth reporting to England's current government, which is involved more substantially.)

It is tempting, too, after NAFTA, to include at least northeastern Mexico in the definition of North America because… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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