Nations Must Study Alexander Hamilton’s Principles of Political Economy

Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles of the American System of Economics
Nancy Bradeen Spannaus iUniverse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2019, 222 pp. $13.99 soft cover, $5.99 e-book.

Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles Of the American System of Economics      By Nancy Bradeen Spannaus

A Review by Lawrence Freeman-March 28 2019

For those followers of our beloved Alexander Hamilton and for those new to his writings, this book is for you. Nancy Spannaus, in her just-released book Hamilton Versus Wall Street, makes a unique contribution to the existing volumes written on Hamilton’s political and economic thoughts.  In her relatively short easy-to-read book, she weaves together Hamilton’s revolutionary ideas on political economy that served as the pillars for the creation of the United States, their legacy in the next two centuries of America, and their influence internationally. Throughout her treatise, Spannaus also provides constructive historical analysis of the battle inside the United States to adopt Hamilton’s concepts. This book is a valuable complement to Hamilton’s economic reports and will aid those unfamiliar with his seminal texts. *

Spannaus polemically begins by countering the popular myth that Hamilton was an agent for the banks (Wall Street) against the interests of the “little man,” agrarian society and the states, as espoused by Thomas Jefferson and others.  She later devotes entire chapters to Hamilton’s opposition to the British central banking system and Adam Smith, exposing another slander which alleged Hamilton was a supporter of the British aristocracy.

Principles of Political Economy

            Unlike like other publications on Hamilton that gloss over or give insufficient attention to Hamilton’s ground-breaking concepts of banking, credit, and manufactures, Spannaus makes a great effort to elaborate Hamilton’s contributions to: “The Core Principles of the American System of Economics.”  **

All nations would benefit greatly, if their leaders and citizens studied Hamilton writings. American culture would not be at the low level it is today, if my fellow citizens had been taught Hamilton’s economic theories, which in fact were crucial to the creation of our nation from thirteen indebted, agriculturally-based colonies. Advanced sector countries that are dominated by financial systems dictated by Wall Street and the City of London, and underdeveloped nations that rely on resource extraction and farming, because they lack a manufacturing sector, could learn a great deal from Hamilton.

However, Hamilton’s thinking about economic growth was not limited to the mere production of goods. He understood for society to continually increase the productive powers of the economy, the development of the human mind was essential. Spannaus quotes Hamilton: “To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients, by which the wealth of the nations may be promoted.” (p. 28).

Friederich List, a student of Hamilton’s philosophy in the nineteenth century, wrote that “capital of mind, capital of nature, and capital of productive matter” are all essential components to achieve economic progress. (p. 29)

Hamilton’s First National Bank (courtesy ushistory.org)

The Constitution and Public Debt-Credit

Hamilton knew that for a nation to be truly sovereign, it must possess the means to produce the physical wealth necessary to maintain the existence of its citizens and their posterity. It is no coincidence that the Founding Fathers embedded this concept in the profound Preamble to the US Constitution. As Spannaus emphasizes, for Hamilton, the importance of establishing federal credit through the creation of the National Bank, stabilizing the currency, developing the manufacturing capability of the young United Sates, and increasing the wealth of the nation through internal improvements, was coherent with the intent of the Preamble “to form a more perfect Union.”

Hamilton used the “general welfare” clause of the Preamble to justify his revolutionary idea to create a public-private National Bank to consolidate the separate states and establish a unified currency to promote national economic growth. Generations later, in the footsteps of Hamilton, Franklin Roosevelt, who studied Hamilton’s writings, would also rely on the “general welfare” clause to garner support for his New Deal and other programs he initiated to revive the U.S. economy wracked by the Great Depression.  

Public Credit, anathema today to virtually all Democratic and Republican leaders, was another key concept Hamilton fought for, knowing that private sector funds and privately-owned banks would never adequately fund a nation’s economic growth, especially for large-scale internal improvements, i.e. infrastructure.

To emphasize the unique role of public credit, Spannaus lists four exceptional periods in U.S. history when the efficacious application of government-issued credit led to a pronounced expansion of the American economy. These are administrations of Presidents George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. (p. 55-56)

In chapter 7, the author concisely summarizes Hamilton’s outlook: “…it is the deliberate increasing of the productive powers of labor through technology, improvements in infrastructure, and the use of government power to create credit that will produce value in the economy.” (p.128) This is more than good advice that all public officials. government leaders, and informed citizens should follow to secure a joyful future for their nation.

In Africa and other underdeveloped regions of the world where nations have suffered from hundreds of years of exploitation of their natural resources, Alexander Hamilton’s wise words should be fully grasped: “The intrinsic wealth of a nation is be measured, not by the abundance of the precious metals contained in it, but by the quantity of the productions of its labor and industry.” (emphasis added p. 1)

*Hamilton wrote four major economic reports for Congress and President George Washington between January 1790 and December 1791: Report on Public Credit; Report on a National Bank; Report on Manufactures; and Opinion as to the Constitutionality of the National Bank.

**This is the subtitle of Hamilton Versus Wall Street.

‘Investigate or Legislate’: What Will the Democrats in Control of the House of Representatives Do?

With control of the House of Representatives, the Democrats have the opportunity to provide leadership for the United States. They will have to decide. Do they want to make their primary focus attacking President Donald Tramp, by continuing their impotent investigation of his alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 election? Or will they actually provide a vision for the future of the USA, by enacting bold new legislation.  Any attempt to impeach President Trump would be a farce that would virtually ensure the Democrats would be defeated in the 2020 presidential election.

President Trump has demonstrated that he lacks a comprehensive understanding of the scientific principles that created the USA. He has also displayed an unAmerican phobia to non-white foreigners from a multitude of countries arriving in the USA.  However, President Trump has distinguished himself in forming a close relationship with the President of China, Xi Xinping. He has also attempted to establish a working relationship with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. To the detriment of the USA (and the world) many Democrats, along with some members of his own administration, have adamantly opposed these positive initiatives by President Trump. President Trump has many shortcomings, but to his credit, he is not an ideologue, and he is not a devout follower of the geo-political doctrine on foreign policy. If President Trump took the audacious step to partner with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the world could be transformed.

Important polices must be implemented now to provide for the welfare of our citizens, which will require bipartisan action in the Congress. For example. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have made verbal commitments to support a Glass Steagall banking reorganization, yet no action has been taken by the Congress or this administration. Another opportunity for bipartisanship would be the passage of legislation for a transformative infrastructure plan to rebuild the USA.

Below is a useful article discussing how President Trump working with the Congress could fund large-scale infrastructure projects. 

A New Opportunity for a National Infrastructure Agenda?

Nov. 7, 2018—One thing is definitive about the results of the U.S. mid-term elections: Neither political party put a solution to the country’s economic and financial disaster on the national agenda.  That doesn’t mean that many of the new Democratic members of Congress don’t have a strong commitment to address the economic crisis, however. They can potentially galvanize the veteran Congressmen into action. The question is, will competent, workable proposals be put on the table in the 116th Congress?

Statements from President Trump and the putative incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the immediate aftermath of the election were notable for addressing the possibility of bipartisan progress on infrastructure. Both statements were quite vague, however—and, as some will recall, Trump has offered cooperation on infrastructure before. One need only look at his current blackballing of the New York City Gateway project to see how hollow that promise was.

Rep. DeFazio in his campaign photo.

More substantive have been remarks from the incoming chairmen of two House committees. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is expected to take over the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. According to a Nov. 7 Reutersarticle, DeFazio is prepared to put forward his previous proposal for a $500 billion plan, which would involve issuing 30-year bonds, using funds from  raising gas taxes. He believes Trump would accept an increase in the gas tax.

“There has to be real money, real investment,” DeFazio said today. “We’re not going to do pretend stuff like asset recycling. We’re not going to do massive privatization.”

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), who is slated to take over the House Budget Committee, addressed the infrastructure question a few days before the election, according to an Oct. 30 Politico Pro article. He said he would be making a proposal which “involves some very long-term bonding authority that would help finance an infrastructure bank.”

The Issue of Funding

The inevitable sticking point in Congressional discussions of an adequate infrastructure bill—which should ultimately amount to spending trillions of dollars to meet the infrastructure deficit—will be funding. President Trump has already indicated his preference for off-loading the cost to local and state governments, and proposes to even cut the Federal contribution from today’s 80% to 20%. That’s a formula for non-action. The Democratic plans have not been specific.

The danger lies in a potential “compromise” that pushes Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as the solution to the funding dilemma. PPPs are presented as a means of reducing, or eliminating, public costs, by contracting with private companies to either build, manage, or both the needed element of infrastructure. The claim is that the private company can do the job cheaper and more efficiently, and the public will benefit.

Moving ahead on Gateway would be a good place to start.

Not so fast. First, some of the cheapness comes at the cost of labor—by violation of Davis-Bacon standards–and quality. Secondly, private contractors only enter PPP agreements on the guarantee that they will receive a revenue stream to cover their costs, and provide a profit. This can amount to tolls on a road, water bills for a water company, and the like. And if the stream doesn’t provide what the company considers adequate profit, what will it do?  Cut maintenance? Cut off people’s water supply? Both results have occurred! And they are unacceptable.

So, forget PPPs. The solution lies in taking the lead from Franklin Roosevelt and Alexander Hamilton. The Federal government has a unique capability (and responsibility) to create credit to modernize and rebuild our infrastructure. That credit can in fact be issued by turning current (virtually non-performing) government debt into bonds supporting an infrastructure bank, against which it would then issue new loans to help finance the long overdue infrastructure projects.  These would not only be short-term, but also long-term projects, such as the Gateway Project, California High Speed Rail, and the desperately needed water projects in the nation’s interior, for starters.  If the right projects are selected, the infrastructure constructed will pay back more to the economy in increased productivity than is expended–as well as creating millions of new, high-paying jobs.

For a modern proposal for such an infrastructure bank, click here

 

The Debate On China’s Role In Africa; A Different Point Of View

The Council of African Security and Development-CASADE has published my article regarding the debate over whether China is forcing African nations into a new ‘debt trap.’ Despite the propaganda from some Africans and Westerners, China is not the new imperialist in Africa. You can read my analysis below.

CASADE: COUNCIL ON AFRICAN SECURITY AND DEVELOPMENT

 

 

 

Why the “Fire and Fury” on China Trade

By William Jones

The world is on tenterhooks waiting for the next moves from the Trump Administration in terms of the draconian tariffs he has threatened to place on China as well as on a number of other countries, including our close neighbors Canada and Mexico. And the question remains for most people: Is he really intent on carrying out the threat (the first tariffs are to take effect on July 6) or is this merely an “in-your-face” negotiating tactic to cut a better deal for the United States? We probably won’t know until the last moment, but a number of things seem to be clear.

Why the “Fire and Fury” on China Trade?