HB V

is older than it's ever been and now it's even older

7/06/2001

Hamilton and Jefferson



All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are rich and well born; the other, the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second; and as they cannot receive any advantage by change, they will therefore maintain good government.


-Alexander Hamilton, 1787

As I alluded to yesterday, Hamilton and Jefferson turned into the dominant philosophical voices for shaping the future of the new United States of America. No, these two voices for the republic are still heard today, although Hamilton seems to have won the debate. You see, Hamilton’s vision for the US was one of a new industrial, mercantile power; not a colonial one, necessarily, but one that used its power and its credit to guarantee the operation of a strong economy. Hamilton’s Report on the Nature of Manufactures was an enormously influential treatise on national finance and macroeconomics; its basic thrust was that the country could and should use its muscle to help and protect domestic businesses from competition and the vagaries of the business cycle in a way to help make merchants rich. Hamilton also was in favor of the national government doing whatever it could to increase its power and sway. This was primarily because he was not so much in favor of freedom as he was afraid of disorder. If the government could remain strong, then it could guarantee the wealth of people like himself. One of the ways that this was achieved was guaranteeing a steady money supply. He supported tariffs partially to protect domestic industries and partly to generate revenue.

Jefferson (superb link, by the way. I highly recommend it), on the other hand, was in favor of a decentralized, strict constructionist view of the federal government. He was in favor of an agrarian economy and a romanticized, bucolic ideal for the American dream. Jefferson was mainly afraid of too much government and wanted strict rules to hold the powers of the federals in check. Despite this general position, Jefferson had many moments of weakness, including the critical decision to purchase Louisiana – a decision that was certainly contrary to everything he ever said about the power of the president.

Where Jefferson was a populist, Hamilton was afraid of the people. I am sympathetic to both views. On one hand, the people certainly ought to act in a way that is most consistent with the greater good. On the other hand, the state of education and culture in America is such today that I believe many Americans are brainwashed into not recognizing the nature of the political choices we are presented with. As I get older, I recognize that there is a lot of truth in the saying that the USA is a new country. These choices that our country made are not ones made long, long, long ago, although they are several lifetimes removed from our generation. We are taught that these Founding Fathers were Important Patriots, that made wise decisions by consensus that are still locking us into our political heritage and system today. In reality, these Founding Fathers were also politicians, and were often at each other’s throats. Jefferson may be revered today, but very few people could tell you why. Hamilton is not remembered, although we see him more than many other early politicians (he is the guy on the $10 bill, remember?). George W Bush and his cabinet are the ideological successors to Hamilton and his Federalists. Coolidge’s “The Business of America is Business” could now be the national motto.

Jefferson’s vision is essentially dead. The nation used to be agrarian; one century ago over sixty percent of us lived on farms; now fewer than 25% do. The strict constructionists in our political ranks have been routed since the Great Depression and its New Deal. Rights have long been subjugated to liberty. It is high time we chose to remember Jefferson not just in name but in spirit and belief – not that we can reverse our population growth or become an agricultural economy again, but reshape the nature of the republic so it looks like the Constitution. And now I sound like a politician.

A man with no arms, no legs, who hangs on the wall

Another 1142 gleaning: an explanation for why crap art sells. I wish I could make $29,000 for a styrofoam cup with a bug in it. Basically, speculators have driven up the price because other stupid rich people buy it. Essentially, the art market today is a large bubble economy. The emperor still has no clothes, folks.

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