Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Profit Motive Keeps Our Union Together -- So Say Alexander Hamilton and Jay Cost

If you think our society's nosedive in civility and the increase in political and identitarian tribalism will lead to civil war... Take heart. It won't happen. That's the message of Jay Cost, writing for National Review. His prognosis is based on none other than Alexander Hamilton, who of course graces our $10 bill and was the subject of a spectacularly popular play in recent years.

In Federalist No. 12, Hamilton wrote that "[t]he prosperity of commerce" is, and will increasingly become, "the primary object of our political cares." He explained that the "interests" of the working citizenry are "intimately blended and interwoven." And this reality, claims Hamilton via and according to Cost, will insure American society today endures the turbulent, polarized affairs in which we find ourselves. 

To read Cost's full article, I direct you to National Review's site below...

It should be noted that the Founders also had much to say about religion and morality being important to preserving the glue which binds us together. See Washington's Farewell Address (which incidentally Hamilton had a hand in writing). But even if Cost is correct in his emphasis on economics, the glue only works so long as Americans embrace the system given to us by our Founders, namely free market economics. If the nation turns away from capitalism and more toward socialism, we may find Cost's hopeful optimism misplaced. 


Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, America as a "commercial republic."

Certainly as many--let's admit more--came to America, especially outside New England, for economic opportunity, not religious freedom.

But I do believe America would not have become the United States in 1776--or again in 1787--or again through and after the Civil War--without a compelling sense of America as more than an economic arrangement.

Good to see you again, Brian. The "United States" and "America" are two intertwined but not necessarily synonymous concepts.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes, Walter Berns in the 3rd Chapter of Making Patriots makes a great case for this proposition. The business of America was meant to be business. God is somewhere in there, but not America's central focus.

And it was probably Madison who convinced his friend Jefferson to give up his hopes in the Agrian society (very popular in certain elite circles back then) in favor of what he and Hamilton argued for in the Federalist.

Our Founding Truth said...

"the glue only works so long as Americans embrace the system given to us by our Founders, namely free market economics."

This isn't really true, and Hamilton and the founding fathers made that clear. The quotes of morality as the glue are interwoven into most of their writings, including in Hamilton's Report on Manufactures. The context Hamilton is referring to are the financial affairs they were in. The capitalism then and of today, is Calvin's Geneva and its great aftermath.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Actually I think it's Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment that gets most of the credit for modern capitalism. The Arian Richard Price too (though he was Welsh) because of his ground breaking work on finance.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The thing about Adam Smith is that he was explaining a de facto system that already existed. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" is the full title.

Interestingly enough, Smith's effect on the Founders appears to have been more as political philosophy than economics. Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison all cited him.

Adam Smith's Reception among the American Founders, 1776-1790
Samuel Fleischacker
The William and Mary Quarterly
Vol. 59, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), pp. 897-924


[accessible with free sign-up]

Our Founding Truth said...

The Scots received their info on economics from the Reformers and their followers. Reid and Hutchison grew up Presbyterian. Moreover, John Adams said Ponet promulgated "all the essential principles of liberty" and this included economic liberty, which Geneva promoted. In fact, JA said Sidney and Locke promoted the same thing.

Taxes only for necessity, private property, sovereignty of the people, republicanism, education, welfare reform (that they should work), dissemination of information, freedom of the press, appellate courts, limited govt, recognized fast days, the covenant foundation of the nation (DOI), freedom to assemble, publishing rights, etc., are all from Calvin. Calvin essentially formed the United States.

Calvin's idea of The calling of God to various vocations changed the world's economy's.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ponet promulgated "all the essential principles of liberty" and this included economic liberty

Maybe, but you're going to have to do better than slip in "economic liberty" under the guise of Calvinist Resistance Theory ala Ponet, which was political.

The Puritans did not risk their lives to cross an angry ocean just to create a libertarian paradise.


Tom Van Dyke said...

"Reviewing a vast and impressive literature, Shain simultaneously debunks both the Lockean liberal and civic republican theses. With the revisionists, Shain bears witness to the communal character of the founding era. In contrast to the civic view, however, he finds that Americans willfully gave themselves not to a spirited public life, but to the spirit of the Lord that dwelled within the breast of each believer. The republican tradition “insisted that full human development was only achievable through direct political participation.” But Protestant America “did not understand political life as having intrinsic worth or as defining the sole path toward full human development.” As “a largely Christian and over-whelmingly rural people, Americans...understood politics as instrumental in the service of higher religious and other publicly defined goals.” Their conception of liberty (which Shain denotes “English political liberty”) “emphasized the instrumental rather than the intrinsic value of political life.” This emphasis bespeaks their abiding confidence in the Protestant path of human development marked out by “faith,” “allegiance to family,” “dependence on God’s love and his freely given grace,” and most important, “brotherly [or] communal oversight” (pp. 272, 275–76). This last feature signified a commitment to “an intrusive form of politics,” one that left little room for individual autonomy and self-assertion—hence the “myth” of American individualism. In 1776, Americans rallied not against intrusive political power per se, but merely against the unwelcome imposition of far-off state, continental, and imperial legal mandates. At home, Americans actively upheld “the ethical intrusiveness of communal life.” Humankind is fitted for society, and it is fit that society guide and direct every member along his or her God-given path. Early American society could thus be characterized as “coercively communalistic,” “majoritarian,” even “totalitarian.” Individuals might pull up stakes and depart to foreign parts, but “what they could not choose was self-defined, individualistic freedom”."

Jonathan Rowe said...

My work has a limited JSTOR license and I can access the entire article through it. I only got through the first 10 pages.

I think it's a good example of not necessarily Smith but the entire Scottish Enlightenment as a whole as so notable an influence not just on the American Founding but also on what started modernity's progress as a whole.

We've certainly neglected much of the detail here and ought further explore it in the future.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One of the interesting things in the article is the possibility that America influenced Smith more than the other way around. America had a freer economy than Britain and Smith observed the benefits.

Our Founding Truth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Our Founding Truth said...

In many ways, through economics, Calvin influenced western civilization the most by spreading thefoundation; literacy. That was the key to open free markets throughout the world.

Tom Van Dyke said...


An unprecedentedly intimate and comprehensive glimpse at the breadth and diversity of one of world literature’s most vital, adventurous presences.
In the 14th century, 80 percent of English adults couldn’t even spell their names. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, only about 30 percent of European adults were literate. Gutenberg’s invention flooded Europe with printed material and literacy rates began to rise. In the 17th century education became an emphasized part of urban societies, further catalyzing the spread of literacy. All told, literacy rates in England grew from 30 percent of about 4 million people in 1641 to 47 percent of roughly 4.7 million in 1696. As wars, depressions and disease riddled 18th century Europe, the pace of literacy growth slowed but continued upwards, reaching 62 percent among the English population of roughly 8 million by 1800.

Our Founding Truth said...

Gutenburg only invented the printing press. Calvinists are the people who spread literacy through emphasizing education and reading by spreading copies everywhere of the Septuagint, works of the Reformers, and church fathers.

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