Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debtby John Steele Gordon
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… See more details below
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.
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 startit's just not a good place to stop.
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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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