Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States

Michael Lind. Harper, $27.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-183480-6
Lind (Vietnam: The Necessary War) delivers a conventional story of America’s technological transformation in parallel with an imaginative account of the 200-year tug-of-war between Alexander Hamilton’s and Thomas Jefferson’s economic philosophies. Lind, cofounder of the New America Foundation, prefers Hamilton’s vision of an activist central government that, he argues, produces economic growth. But that theory enjoyed only spotty success after 1800 and none after Andrew Jackson rejected it. It revived with Lincoln’s support of railroads, national banking, and a tariff-based import system. Jeffersonian laissez-faire returned, but, the author points out, even the Jeffersonians supported government intervention in favor of small businesses. Lind hails the New Deal era from FDR through Nixon as a Hamiltonian triumph during which the economy mushroomed, middle-class mass consumerism appeared, and poverty plummeted. Carter and Reagan began the Jeffersonian reaction: antigovernment rhetoric accompanied by deregulation. Instead of a flourishing free market, says Lind, the result has been not productive industry but wage stagnation, crumbling infrastructure, and a sluggish economy driven by boom-and-bust speculation and rising debt. The coda offers a prescription for how the next Hamiltonian cycle should fix matters, but asserts that Jeffersonianism rules today. Lind paints a vivid if dismal picture. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/09/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
Ebook - 592 pages - 978-0-06-209772-9
Paperback - 586 pages - 978-0-06-183481-3
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