June 2, 2009

"Hamilton's Curse" by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

The Austrian economics scholar Tom DiLorenzo defends Thomas Jefferson at the expense of his great rival Alexander Hamilton in a lucid new book, Hamilton's Curse.

My personal view is that America was very lucky that the two men tended to concentrate on their strong suits and let the other man carry out his field of expertise. Hamilton restored confidence in government finances and protected "infant industries." Jefferson concentrated on making sure America's distribution of land ownership wasn't as unequal as Latin America by abolishing primogeniture and setting up a sophisticated system for land sales so that land would be available to small farmers. If the they had reversed their fields of focus, the country would probably have ended up like Argentina, with huge inequalities in land ownership and shoddy finances.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

48 comments:

RMorrow said...

This post seems kind of random, out of nowhere. The book has been out for a while, I believe. Did you just read it?

Or are you indirectly making a point about current affairs in the US, and the probable future state of affairs in the US? I suspect you are....

Could you clarify?

dearieme said...

"abolishing primogeniture": an awful lot of rubbish is spoken about primogeniture in England, so it's not too unlikely that there's a fair bit of rubbish spoken about its role in the American Colonies. In England, it was simple - if you hadn't made a will, your property passed to your oldest son. If you had made a will, it went to whomever you specified.

Anonymous said...

Over the years that you've been blogging, you must have increasingly realized that talk of Hamilton or Jefferson or the America of 200+ years ago is absolutely irrelevant at this stage. Haven't you?

Ronduck said...

Of course, even had they reversed America would still be different from Argentina since America is not a former Spanish colony.

That, and America is not a Catholic country, at least not yet.

Anonymous said...

"If the they had reversed their fields of focus, the country would probably have ended up like Argentina, with huge inequalities in land ownership and shoddy finances."

I think Steve is uncharacteristically exaggerating the role of individual politicians in history. The American colonies' initial population mostly came from the British Isles, so for a long time the level of its economic stability resembled Britain's. Argentina's population mostly came from Spain and Italy, so its level of political and economic stability has tended to resemble those of Spain and Italy.

AllanF said...

Interesting you mention Argentina. Did you see this recent piece in the FT?

AllanF said...

Sorry, here's the link:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/778193e4-44d8-11de-82d6-00144feabdc0.html

Jim Bowery said...

I think the late Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton might take issue with your defending that rat-bastard, Hamilton.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Steve. It would have sucked if we had ended up with "shoddy finances."

Anonymous said...

I don't know about "huge inequalities in land ownership", but USA2009 certainly has "shoddy finances".

John Anello said...

Were we to be directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.
-Thomas Jefferson

One of my favorite quotes of all time and resonates perhaps more forcefully today, in the age of Obama and his czars, than it did when Jefferson wrote it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, good thing we avoided the "shady finances" -- oh wait.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Jefferson has always been popular with both left-libertarians and anarcho-libertarians. So he's a natural fit for Lew Rockwell in his post-"Ron Paul Report" phase.

Frederick Scott Oliver's Alexander Hamilton: An Essay on American Union (1906) is an awesome rebuttal from the British Liberal-Unionist perspective. Oliver's portrait of Jefferson as a two-faced demagogic scoundrel, while possibly extreme, is not duplicated in any American sources that I've seen. Those who read it are unlikely to forget it.

And thanks to Sergey Brin, it's free! All reactionaries, please give a big hand to Sergey Brin.

Anonymous said...

Steve, check out drudgereport tonight where apparently a minor shoe has dropped in response to Obama's Middle East recent policy announcements. Here is the banner headline:

THE EMERGENCE OF OBAMA'S MUSLIM ROOTS

Great timing Mr Drudge! And one of the top center column headlines tonight also happens to be:

PRESSURE: U.S.-Israeli relationship takes new direction...

Hmmmmmmmmm. What is the reader to think after reading the two headlines? Could Drudge's big banner headline itself be part of the "new direction" in the US-Israeli relationship?

anony-mouse said...

1/ One negative aspect to the two: Jefferson started the American tradition of people of inherited wealth claiming to be the tribunes of the poor against people like Hamilton who actually was once poor.

2/ Hamilton was in some ways like Cheney-a man who spent his career in government and private industry-and as it turned out, was a lousy shot.

Anonymous said...

If the they had reversed their fields of focus, the country would probably have ended up like Argentina, with huge inequalities in land ownership and shoddy finances.
----------

Hey wait a minute, are you trying to be funny??

Bill Roman said...

Interesting!

kevin said...

did you see this article in newsweek, "The Math Gender Gap Explained", steve?

http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/thehumancondition/archive/2009/06/01/sharon-begley-the-math-gender-gap-explained.aspx

"“We concluded that the main reason many fewer females than males excel in math in most countries is not lack of innate ability or ‘intrinsic aptitude’ but gender inequality,” says Mertz. “Nations with greater gender equality typically have a smaller math gender gap.” (Gender equality, as measured by economists, reflects the number of women holding political office, the difference in men’s and women’s pay and the like, and is calculated by the World Economic Forum. The U.S. currently ranks 31st, with northern and western Europe dominating the top spots.) That suggests that the root of gender disparity in math is sociocultural factors, not anything unchangeable that girls are born with. Society either sends a message that girls can excel at math, that they will be rewarded for doing so—or it doesn’t."

A Nonce Lily said...

Oliver's portrait of Jefferson as a two-faced demagogic scoundrel, while possibly extreme, is not duplicated in any American sources that I've seen.

Try Gore Vidal's Burr.

Anonymous said...

Yes that was too bad about hamilton getting ventilated by aaron burr. there was a lot of disgust directed at burr but funny how little sympathy developed afterwards for the victim. no batch of songs or lyric poems of tragic heroic deeds or much myth making at all.

The dueling culture removed a lot of assholes from the gene pool as steve has discussed previously.

And didn't the marxists close the *gender inequality gap* in places like east germany (gdr) by stifling all freedom and innovation? just hold everyone back enough and perfect equality is achievable.

Unfortunately hamilton would've come to some sort of accomodation with a marxist regime. as long as he got his dacha and good vodka and top shelf hookers. otoh jefferson: no.

And burr wasn't such a bad guy at all really. he would've stabbed the scumbag lenin in the throat with a pencil at the first opportunity.

Henry Canaday said...

There are several little paradoxes here. Hamilton was very successful at putting the early US on a sound financial footing, so much so that Jefferson sought to continue Hamilton's financial policies. But Hamilton's one major failure was his stab at a kind of 'industrial policy' a project for promoting particular industries. And Jefferson accidentally installed the nation's most effective protection of infant industries when his embargo against British goods, undertaken for foreign policy reasons, shut down the ports and forced Americans to buy US-manufactured goods.

Anonymous said...

I'll admit to not knowing the word primogeniture. I looked it up and the wikipedia article had this statement:

"However, as history informs us, some women have also produced illegitimate children within the marriage by cuckolding their peered husbands thereby fouling the family nest with bastard offspring from other men (and not necessarily of peerage lineage)."

It's rare to find something so direct and with a clear editorial bent on wikipedia. And on one of Steve's favorite topics -- cuckoo's eggs.

silly girl said...

Kevin,

If you love math, you will love this clear explanation of the math gender gap.

http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/math2.htm

While women as a group may be able to score similarly to men on the painfully easy NAEP, or even on the more rigorous SAT (hasn't actually happened yet) the achievement gap at the top will likely remain. Also the mean ability of students in a given country is not constant across nations.

Anonymous said...

"Jefferson's dedication to "consent of the governed" was so thorough that he believed that individuals could not be morally bound by the actions of preceding generations. This included debts as well as law. He said that "no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation." He even calculated what he believed to be the proper cycle of legal revolution: "Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it is to be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right." He arrived at nineteen years through calculations with expectancy of life tables, taking into account what he believed to be the age of "maturity"—when an individual is able to reason for himself.[46] He also advocated that the national debt should be eliminated. He did not believe that living individuals had a moral obligation to repay the debts of previous generations. He said that repaying such debts was "a question of generosity and not of right.""
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_jefferson#Appearance_and_temperament

James Kabala said...

"An awful lot of rubbish is spoken about primogeniture in England, so it's not too unlikely that there's a fair bit of rubbish spoken about its role in the American Colonies. In England, it was simple - if you hadn't made a will, your property passed to your oldest son."

Jefferson's real bete noire was not primogeniture but entail, in which, regardless of any subsequent wishes or wills of later owners, a particular piece of real estate was willed down in the primogeniture male line permanently. I believe this is a major plot point in Pride and Prejudice - if you had only daughters like Mr. Bennet and were living on an estate that a distant ancestor had subjected to entail, it would go to a distant cousin after your death and your wife daughters could (if the new owner was cruel) be thrown out.

Colonial New England had already abolished primogeniture and used "partible inheritance," in which an estate was split up among all the children, with the eldest son receiving a double share of what the others received. This was based on the inheritance system described in the Old Testament. Of course, after a few generations it led to estates that were extremely small, so both no-estate Southern younger sons and small-estate Yankee younger sons were forced to set out for the West. (This last sentence is an oversimplification, of course.)

"Jefferson concentrated on making sure America's distribution of land ownership wasn't as unequal as Latin America."

I'd say Europe was much more on Jefferson's mind than Latin America ever was.

James Kabala said...

Oh, and Conor Cruise O'Brien would be the leading modern hate-Jefferson scholar. His concern with more with Jefferson's attitude toward the French Revolution (O'Brien is a great admirer of Burke) than (except for slavery) his domestic policies, however.

Hammurabi said...

Land tenure: the Federal government owns most of the USA West of the Rockies and won't sell any of it.

Finances? Can you say "AIG, Fannie Mae, Citibank?"

Tom V said...

Dearieme:

If you had made a will, it went to whomever you specified.

Not before the passage of Statute of Wills in 1540. From the 1911 Britannica:

It became the law after the Conquest, according to Sir E. Coke,' that no estate greater than for a term of years could be disposed of by will . . . . As a remedy an act was passed in 1540, and a further explanatory act in 1542-1543. . . . The effect of these acts was to make lands held in fee simple devisable by will . . .

And even after land became deviseable, how many people actually made such a devise? Abolishing primogeniture by default must have accelerated partitions of estates.

spacehabitats said...

The collectivist/statist dichotomy in the U.S. government represented by the competing philosophies of Jefferson and Hamilton is hardly a dead issue. That struggle continues today and lies at the heart of many of the more egregious abuses by the political establishment of individual liberty.

In fact, justification for the Hamiltonian interference by centralized government is the prime motivator behind the politically correct pseudoscience that Steve so often spotlights in his blog.

Anonymous said...

that rat-bastard, Hamilton.



It is disturbing to realize that there are people out there who get their information about important historical figures from short pop-culture articles they read on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately hamilton would've come to some sort of accomodation with a marxist regime. as long as he got his dacha and good vodka and top shelf hookers. otoh jefferson: no.



There are some batshit crazy people posting on this site.



The man with his own dacha, and slaves to tend to it, was, of course, Jefferson. He was also banging the slaves.

Hamilton was the self-made man, the only such of all the Founders.

Dutch Boy said...

Hamilton was also "at the front" during the Revolution while Jefferson was careful to stay out of musket shot. Too bad for his heirs that Tommy didn't buy it during the Revolution; he wouldn't have had time to bankrupt his estate and leave them nothing!

Bonjour said...

An ultra-crypto-super-calvino-uber Protestant speaks:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,397378,00.html

Steve Sailer said...

"This post seems kind of random, out of nowhere."

This is my new blogging style. I make a vague gesture at some large topic and then my commenters fill in in wonderful detail what I was trying to say: e.g., the superb description above of what "entail" entails.

John Seiler said...

"huge inequalities in land ownership and shoddy finances."

Sounds like California 2009!

dearieme said...

@James Kabala: I think you're wrong about entail necessarily involving primogeniture. Wikipedia reports "It was also possible to have "fee tail male," which only sons could inherit, and "fee tail female," which only daughters could inherit; and "fee tail special," which had a further condition of inheritance, usually restricting succession to certain "heirs of the body" and excluding others. Land subject to these conditions was said to be entailed or in tail." In other words, entailing land for successive oldest sons was a matter of the original owner's choice, not a Law of the Land. But I'd better confess that my expertise here is at the level of "I once read a history of trusts and entail".

Anonymous said...

"Land tenure: the Federal government owns most of the USA West of the Rockies and won't sell any of it. "

Selling off some of that land would be a great way to help pay down the national debt and expand the tax base. Seriously.

The BLM/Forest Service running 76% of Nevada, 70% of Utah, 32% of Arizona etc. is ridiculous.

-Vanilla Thunder

clem said...

did you see this article in newsweek, "The Math Gender Gap Explained"....

Funny thing about that article, when combined with the link to La Griffe du Lion's debunking of Hyde's earlier work. From the former article by Sharon Begley:

"For anyone who still believes that innate factors explain the math gender gap, as I wrote last year, look at countries with a common gene pool.... Korea topped Japan by 6 to 0." (She doesn't say for what years, or whether the year[s] in question were representative.)

But, Korea actually has a slightly lower World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index (0.6157 vs. 0.6447) than does Japan. (Higher is better, in terms of female emancipation, etc.; Sweden, for example, is 0.81, while Yemen is 0.45.) So, the 6-to-0 ratio between countries with a "common gene pool" is exactly in the opposite direction of what it should be if the greater number of girls sent by Korea was the product of "social and other environmental forces" directed toward young females, and rather wildly so.

So that ratio is either a statistical fluctuation, or it's one data-point of disproof for Begley's ideas; either way, it doesn't support her thesis, so she was dumb to quote it.

"mathgirl" posted a good comment on Begley's article:

"Results in science are not only about abilities. You can be very good at something, but just not that interested (and choose biology or medicine over math, for example). Scientific achievement at 40 is not perfectly correlated with grades at the graduate or undergraduate level at all. And the 'extremes of math ability' as manifested by the number of math professors is not 1% of population, it is much much less, so drawing conclusions on the basis of school results is similar to describing the properties of 10 karat blue diamonds by looking at large pool of standard 1-karat ones."

CJ said...

The previously-mentioned article in the FT deserves a link:

Argentina: The superpower that never was

Reg C├Žsar said...

Not before the passage of Statute of Wills in 1540. --Tom V.

This wouldn't happen to be this Tom V., would it? The 16th and 17th centuries are his forte.

(His latter-day stuff is much too neoconny for most of Steve's readership, but nonetheless puts NRO to shame for style, and that for a readership of about 50.)

Jim Bowery said...

important historical figures from short pop-culture articles they read on the internet

Calm down... I found the article an amusing introduction to the topic. It is certainly not meant to be the epitome.

Anonymous said...

Alexander Hamilton's core guiding principle re any financial system was to be sure to make it overly complex in order to hide the skim from the masses.

Hamilton was America's original big government mandarin and orginal central banking goon. Jefferson had his vices but he was a true American patriot who didn't hold the working class in contempt. But Hamilton was an early agent of the New World Order whose ideology always pointed toward aristocracy and an elite cynically controlling the masses.

The menacing eye at top of the pyramid on American dollar bills is supposedly a representation of "providence" but I say it's more likely a symbol of Hamilton's control freak ideology. The guy would have signed off on something like the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program in a heartbeat. That sort of thing was right up his alley. Impossibly complex tax code, carbon taxes, face scanning and microchipping the serfs...all of this stuff is Hamiltonian heaven.

clem said...

Further regarding the aforelinked Newsweek article on the male-female math gap, and greater male variability in math achievement, supposedly now disproved by a gaggle of feminists:

I've spent my whole day researching and summarizing that, after having paid for and downloaded the two studies by Hyde that Begley was referencing. For those who are interested, the results are here:

The (Math) Gap.

(There's way too much wrong with Hyde's study, and Sharon Begley's presentation of that, to post it all here.)

Tom V said...

Reg Caesar

This wouldn't happen to be this Tom V., would it?

No.

albertosaurus said...

Hamilton was by far the most interesting of the Founding Fathers. I reccomend Ron Chernow's recent biography. I thought at the time that at 800 pages it represented a great effort in scholarship unlike say Hitchen's recent very short biography of Jeffereson. But no, it hardly represents any research at all. Hamlllton left 6000 pages of autobiographical notes. Anyone can write a Hamilton biography - its an editing job not a research job.

Among the Founding Fathers there were the tall ones (Washington and Jefferson) and the short ones (Hamilton, Madison, and Adams). But even among the short ones Hamiliton was known as "Little Hamilton" or sometimes the Little Lion.

There were also the brave ones and the ones who avoided military action. Jefferson and Adams always managed to avoid gun fire. Washington has always been recognized for his personal courage. He was crazy brave. Hamiliton was hardly less brave. He was Washington's most sucessful artillery officer on the retreat from New York. He commanded the artillery at Princeton. The Hessians thought he was a teenager.

Afterwards Hamilton served on Washington's staff. Hamilton constantly pleaded for a battlefield position but Washington wouldn't let him go. He was too valuable at headquarters. Hamilton wrote 100 letters a day during the war. Only at Yorktown was he allowed to lead troops again.

John F. Kennedy said when he hosted a dinner for Nobel Prize winners that never had the White House contained such intellect except possibly when Jefferson dined alone. Jefferson was certainly intellectually gifted, but once when Madison told him that the Democratic-Republicans had himself, and a hundred others on their side, Jefferson warned him that they were still overmatched because the Federalists had Hamiliton alone. Hamilton was held in awe by Jefferson and the others who knew him.

Anonymous said...

Jefferson had his vices but he was a true American patriot who didn't hold the working class in contempt.



Jeffersons "working class" were slaves. But in the eyes of our half-wit libertarians, that's all right, because he did not "hold them in contempt".


Hamilton was America's original big government mandarin


So's your momma.


Impossibly complex tax code, carbon taxes, face scanning and microchipping the serfs...all of this stuff is Hamiltonian heaven.



Batshit crazy. Your world is inverted, the man who belived in "serfs" was your hero Jefferson.

Anonymous said...

I found the article an amusing introduction to the topic.




I don't find dishonesty amusing. It leads to people like that poor misguided Anonymous who thinks that Hamilton was a big government goon, and Jefferson a true believer in liberty.

James Kabala said...

For what it's worth, the creation of the Great Seal was a lengthy process in which literally over a dozen people (including Jefferson but not Hamilton) were involved at one point or another. The exact version we know today was not created until 1885 (several earlier versions of the same basic motif, some quite ugly, preceded it) and it was not on the money until the 1930s.

At least, that's what this lengthy and heavily-footnoted Wikipedia article says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Seal_of_the_United_States

I knew of the original Adams-Franklin-Jefferson committee and their Biblically and classically inspired ideas, but I did not know many of the remaining details as to how the seal was devised and the various versions proposed. Many here will like the proposal made at one point that "The shield [should have] six sections, each representing 'the Countries from which these States have been peopled' (England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, and Holland)." What an interesting impact such a design would have had on later immigration debates!