The Gilded Age robber barons - the Goulds, the Vanderbilts, the Morgans and Rockefellers - did quite well under laissez-faire. Most of the rest of Americans were still stuck in the ditch, with little to no economic security, life expectancy of roughly 45 years, and horrific infant mortality rates that claimed 300 babies per 1,000 in the cities.
Democracy's premise rests on the notion that the collective wisdom of the majority will prove right more often than it's wrong; that given sufficient opportunity in the pursuit of happiness, your population will develop its talents, its intellect, its better judgment; that over time its capacity for discernment and self-correction will be enlarged.
After Bush was elected in 2004 - please note that I didn't say 're-elected' - and I was walking around in my befuzzed state of confusion and low-grade depression, I set out more or systematically to read writers who'd grappled with that fundamental question of what America is, why it is the way it is.
I think I was lucky to come of age in a place and time - the American South in the 1960s and '70s - when the machine hadn't completely taken over life. The natural world was still the world, and machines - TV, telephone, cars - were still more or less ancillary, and computers were unheard of in everyday life.