The business clerk was employed by an economy that reconceived of property as a vehicle for progress rather than guarantor of the status quo. This meant that abandoning plane and anvil in favor of pen and sales-counter was not just a technical matter of vocational retraining. The very notion of leveraging one’s personal skill set in the labor market subverted an agrarian logic founded on a far less negotiable system of landed freeholds and patriarchal hierarchy. This is when the social life of money became a relevant category of thought, for the same fungibility that facilitated the mass circulation of commodities proved no less applicable to intercourse between persons. True, money was an old means of acquiring property and reproducing community in America. But in market society such currencies of exchange served a fundamentally different purpose, loosening corporate bonds rather than perpetuating them. And though the resulting fluidity did not signal an end to hierarchy, per se, it inverted deference into a highly contingent relationship. The social contract was transformed into a continuous negotiation between citizens determined to replace protection covenants of yore with liberal prepositions promoting each one into his own best agent.
Keywords: standard of living, human capital, market society, patriarchy, business education, personal ambition, labor migration, salary negotiations, homo economicus