Hamilton is the one who turned the economy of the young United States around,when our country couldn’t even pay its soldiers. No one wanted to lend us money to tide us over the rough spots that came from our war for independence.
Hamilton might offer advice. Would Obama take it?
I would say no. The two men are philosophically worlds apart. That’s how we can see some of the difficulties we are facing today.
Hamilton didn’t want to be president or be re-elected president, either. But if he were put in charge of our financial woes, two things would happen: First, he would go to work on a system desperately in need of help. Second, he would acquire modern clothes and maybe get a haircut. Maybe that should be first.
Whatever Obama seems to want more than anything else is to keep his job. Fixing the economy, important as it is, matters less.That is what being a politician means.
But in an ordinary conversation, a reluctance to discuss economics seems odd. All the important news lately has been about issues with their roots in economics, especially true last week when neither Congress nor the president seemed able to act. Countless columnists, commentators and even ordinary people like me writing letters to editors seemed more interested not in fixing the problem but fixing blame. It was obvious there was enough blame to go around.
I think we may be looking in the wrong place. Economics gets ignored because it is too big and too complicated to understand easily. And the form that confuses even the experts is that one that counts here, the form actually called macroeconomics, dealing with how countries balance their checkbooks, worldwide trade and business cycles, none of which do politicians care to monkey with, unless it gets them re-elected.
It doesn’t have to be that way. As individuals, we readily consult credentialed experts when we have problems, doctors, attorneys, counselors, all manner of therapists, even with psychological and religious backgrounds. We can’t be expected to know everything, but we should know when we need some help, and that we can’t simply depend on some crony or someone whom we owe a favor. That’s what seems to be happening in Washington, in spite of the Federal Reserve Board, created to manage our monetary policy in 1913 and run by a board whose directors are appointed by the president.
I have whole pages of notes from researching this, far too much to include here. Instead, I offer two names that as voting citizens we need to know much more about, because both have been very influential with our current crop of politicians. . They, through their legacy in history, are even today calling the shots. For some.
Chronologically, the first is the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). His theme: “The modern capitalist economy does not automatically work at top efficiency, but can be raised to that level by the intervention and influence of the government.” Want to see how that works? That is the guiding principle behind the government bailouts and stimulus packages that have taken us dangerously to the brink of bankruptcy. Keynesian economics it’s called. Reagan was Keynesian. His administration doubled our national debt. Maybe there’s a connection.
Keynes had dedicated opponents. Probably the best known is the American Milton Friedman (1912-2006), posthumously gaining in influence. His economic philosophy, stated broadly, is that the government should mostly keep its hands off economics. Friedman, incidentally, was an economics professor for 30 years at the University of Chicago and received a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Thomas Jefferson would have liked him.
What happens next? Whatever it is, it is premature to dismiss the influence of two economists who, while both deceased, are far from buried and forgotten.