Sunday, September 9, 2012

Jeffersonian Wisdom on Debt

    I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes; have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers. Our landholders, too, like theirs, retaining indeed the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held really in trust for the treasury, must wander, like theirs, in foreign countries, and be contented with penury, obscurity, exile, and the glory of the nation. This example reads to us the salutary lesson, that private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance. And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.
Quoted in Jefferson on Freedom: Wisdom, Advice, and Hints on Freedom, Democracy, and the American Way, a book I picked up for a couple of bucks at Ollie's Bargain Outlet.

(Too bad we chose Hamiltonian folly instead — Past & Present: Alexander Hamilton and the Start of the National Debt.)

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Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Sigh. Why is it whenever people talk about debt and the Founding Fathers, they always besmirch Hamilton's full doctrine? He did not say national debt was a good thing -- he said that a national debt could be a national blessing "so long as it is not excessive." The qualifier is the key. The problem with national debt is when it become excessive, as ours has become over the last 50 years. As contained, prudent, manageable national debt -- the equivalent of having a credit card where you pay off the balance at the end of the month -- isn't a problem. It is in fact an excellent fiscal management tool, as Hamilton well knew. And Hamilton was right -- and history vindicates his actual doctrine.

As for quoting Jefferson -- a man who immorally ran up debts he could not pay, who mortgaged human beings to pay for his own personal indulgences, who ripped children from the breasts of their mothers in order to gain more and more credit from the very banks he denounced in his lying political rhetoric -- I would rather live in the world as Hamilton actually hoped for it to be rather than the nightmare that Jefferson worked to protect and extend.

September 10, 2012 at 1:03 AM  
Blogger Pints in NYC said...

Funny - I walked past Hamilton's grave this afternoon on my way to the subway after work. He is, appropriately, buried across from Wall Street.

Here's a random youtube of the site (I have no connection to these people).

September 10, 2012 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Pints in NYC said...

BTW Mark - did you see HBO's series on John Adams? If so, what did you think of their presentation of Hamilton?

September 10, 2012 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

I think there is plenty to criticize about Hamilton -- particularly his approach to dealing with Adams when Adams was president. Hamilton had served, essentially, as Washington's Prime Minister and he had difficulty stepping back from government when Adams became president. Adams' disdain for Hamilton didn't help things any. My complaint is when people unfairly criticize Hamilton by trying to foist upon him the sins of the modern period. Hamilton, if he were with us, would fit well into the paleo-conservative consensus on most issues -- he and Pat Buchanan would get along quite well on policy issues.

September 10, 2012 at 11:26 PM  

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