Abstract: George Perkins and the Corporate Reconstruction of Risk

Jonathan Levy

Abstract

George Walbridge Perkins, Sr., was a leading American financier at the turn of the twentieth century. A vice-president of the New York Life Insurance Company, partner in the House of Morgan, architect of corporate policy at the U.S. Steel and International Harvester corporations, prominent social reformer, his many activities all focused on a singular goal: to socialize risk under the corporate business form. This paper uses Perkins to establish the conceptual, ideological, and political-economic stakes at issue in the corporate reconstruction of risk at the turn of the twentieth century. As an entry point into this transformation, Perkins—whether through his activities as a financier, his conceptualization of risk as a "social" entity, his authorship of profit-sharing and corporate welfare schemes, or his more public political activities—draws together many of the seemingly disparate strands of this reconstruction, often treated apart from one another.