Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt

Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt

4.8 21
by John Steele Gordon
     
 

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Our national debt is now so high that most of us have stopped thinking about it, because the prospect of bringing it under control is unimaginable. We consider it a national liability and fear our children will be forced to pay for our current excesses. John Steele Gordon is a welcome antidote. In 1997, his book, Hamilton's Blessing, offered a "biography" of the

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Overview

Our national debt is now so high that most of us have stopped thinking about it, because the prospect of bringing it under control is unimaginable. We consider it a national liability and fear our children will be forced to pay for our current excesses. John Steele Gordon is a welcome antidote. In 1997, his book, Hamilton's Blessing, offered a "biography" of the debt, making it very much a human drama while explaining the myriad, mostly positive, ways it has influenced America's history since Alexander Hamilton first proposed the virtues of a national debt in 1792.

However, the 12 years since the book's initial publication have been perhaps the most dramatic in the debt's history?since it has more than doubled and continues on an ever-upward spiral. Now, more than ever, we need John Steele Gordon's wisdom?his revised and expanded edition of Hamilton's Blessing will put this historic expansion in perspective, allowing us to better participate in debate and discussion.

Bringing a remarkable national institution to life, Gordon offers, in the process, an original view of American history, and insight into both well- and lesser-known figures who have influenced and charted our voyage, from Hamilton to Jay Cooke to John Maynard Keynes to the present. The national debt helped rescue the Union during the Civil War and raise the nation out of the Depression?thus offering hope it may serve a similar purpose in the decades to come.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a colorful, sweeping narrative, American Heritage business columnist Gordon charts the history of our national debt, a mere $80 million in 1792, but now a staggering $5.1 trillion. Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the treasury, conceived of a manageable federal debt as a strategic instrument of national policy, and indeed, deficit spending helped the North win the Civil War. President Andrew Jackson eliminated the national debt in 1834, but by shifting federal funds to state-chartered banks he fueled an upsurge in speculation and inflation, sparking the country's first major depression in 1837. Gordon deftly profiles a gallery of financial figures, including aluminum magnate Andrew Mellon (Harding's treasury secretary and the father of "trickle-down economics") and tough, tubercular Federal Reserve boss Benjamin Strong, whose ill-timed death triggered the 1929 crash. Gordon advocates a flat income tax, abolition of political action committees' financing of campaigns, and the creation of an independent accounting board to monitor federal spending. In exposing the underbelly of American political and economic history-our debt-ridden financial system-he has produced an enlightening primer for the layperson. History Book Club selection. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Gordon (Profitable Exporting, Wiley, 1993) provides a comprehensive history of the financing of the federal government aimed at intelligent general readers concerned about public policy. Though he is at times opinionated and makes clear his moderately conservative preferences on fiscal policy, Gordon strives to represent fairly the variety of opinions on financing the federal debt, from Alexander Hamilton's day to our own. His conclusion treats contemporary politics, because Gordon believes the actions of the Congress elected in 1994 were fiscally sound. He also argues that the debt-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio must be reduced to keep the national debt the blessing it has been since Hamilton's day. This enjoyable and informative book is recommended for public libraries.-Susan A. Stussy, Madonna Univ., Kansas City, Kan.
Kirkus Reviews
American Heritage columnist Gordon (The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, 1988) deserves credit for attempting a brief history of the national debt aimed at a wide audience, but the result is somewhat disappointing.

Gordon argues that debt can be a valuable economic and political tool when used consciously and wisely, as Alexander Hamilton attempted to do, but poses a real threat when it results from an unwillingness to make difficult decisions, as with the current federal deficit. This distinction loses its sharpness when applied to more complicated events, such as the funding of the Civil War and Roosevelt's policies in the 1930s, and is lost from sight during the discussion of Andrew Mellon's supply-side economics of the 1920s. But this theory nevertheless serves to bracket a quick survey of American public finance. Unfortunately, at times Gordon's tendency to skim the surface of selected events and rely on conventional platitudes results in a rather skewed account. It is impossible, for example, to understand why early proponents of the income tax were intent on soaking the rich unless their proposals are considered in relation to the equally unbalanced burdens imposed on the less affluent by tariffs and monetary policies. A one-paragraph discussion of the balanced- budget amendment, labeling it a "chimera," though perceptive, hardly covers the range of relevant concerns. Advocating a flat tax so simple that returns can be mailed in on a postcard and then referring to deductions for business expenditures even suggests a lack of systematic thought. Most importantly, the failings of contemporary politicians cannot be the whole story behind the recent, persistent deficits, for Gordon supplies considerable evidence that politicians have always had failings.

For those seeking to understand the national debt, this book is a good place to start—it's just not a good place to stop.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802717993
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
03/30/2010
Edition description:
Revised
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
1,133,838
Product dimensions:
5.72(w) x 8.42(h) x 0.67(d)

Meet the Author

John Steele Gordon is one of America's leading historians, specializing in business and financial history. He is the author of An Empire of Wealth and The Great Game. He has written for Forbes, Worth, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. John Steele Gordon lives in North Salem, New York.

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