The following review of my book Hamilton Versus Wall Street appeared in the blog Africa and the World on March 28, 2019. The blog is run by political-economic analyst for Africa Lawrence Freeman. The book is available through major online booksellers .–Nancy Spannaus
by Lawrence Freeman
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).
Friedrich 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)
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 States, 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.