Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hamiltonians vs Jeffersonians

One of the delights of having time to read for pleasure is that I encounter a lot of good --or good enough -- books. My latest happy discovery is Michael Lind's Land of Promise , a breezy economic history of the United States with a central thesis I find quite persuasive -- that America made its greatest growth and achieved economic dominance when it followed Hamiltonian principles and would never have achieved as much if it had followed Jefferson.

It was the Hamilton-Whig tradition that called for national economic policy, support to infant industries, federal support for infrastructure and education. Jefferson really did believe in a nation of farmers, as in this shocking quote from his 1782 Notes on the State of Virginia: “The political economists of Europe have established it as a principle that every state should endeavor to manufacture for itself; and this principle, like many others, we should transfer to America, without calculating the difference of circumstance which should often produce a difference of result. In Europe the lands are either cultivated, or locked up against the cultivator. Manufacture must therefore be resorted to of necessity, not of choice, to support the surplus of their people. But we have an immensity of land courting the industry of the husbandman … while we have land to labor, then, let us never see our citizens occupied at a workbench.” [Emphasis supplied]

Lind also notes that "free trade" was an anathema to leading political figures like Theodore Roosevelt, who said in 1895, “Thank God I am not a free-trader. In this country pernicious indulgence in the doctrine of free trade seems inevitably to produce fatty degeneration of the moral fibre.”

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