land of promise


Whatever their political party, American leaders have generally subscribed to one of two competing economic philosophies. One is a small-government Jeffersonian perspective that abhors bigness and holds that prosperity flows from competition among independent businessmen, farmers and other producers. The other is a Hamiltonian agenda that believes a large, powerful country needs large, powerful organizations. The most important of those organizations is the federal government, which serves as a crucial partner to private enterprise, building roads and schools, guaranteeing loans and financing scientific research in ways that individual businesses would not. Today, of course, Republicans are the Jeffersonians and Democrats are the Hamiltonians. But it hasn’t always been so. The Jeffersonian line includes Andrew Jackson, the leaders of the Confederacy, William Jennings Bryan, Louis Brandeis, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. The Hamiltonian line includes George Washington, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, both Roosevelts and Dwight Eisenhower. Michael Lind’s “Land of Promise” uses this divide to offer an ambitious economic history of the United States.

more from David Leonhardt at the NY Times here.