Thursday, March 08, 2012

Barbara Clark Smith's America, and American Patriotic Religion

Barbara Clark Smith's The Freedom We Lost ranks one millionth (give or take) in the Amazon league tables which must be dispiriting. And a rotten shame because it is a book that deserves a lot more attention particularly in the fatiguing and seemingly unending debate over the "intent of the founders."  Smith's narrow point is in her title: she throws light on the way in which the revolution centralized power (and don't they all?)--leaving the locals more constrained in managing their own lives.   The Crown may have been autocratic but at least it was remote. The new Federal government had its own autocratic tendencies but was not nearly so remote.

But beyond the narrow point, Smith helps us to see how radically different the world-view of he founding generation was, particularly with reference to the role of "the market."  Recall that Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is no older than the Declaration of Independence. These people had not the remotest notion what a "market economy" might look like--indeed the very idea of an "economy" (in the modern sense) was only just a-borning.  They believed in "controls."  They didn't like displays of great wealth.  They didn't mind busting down the door of the occasional warehouse to to thwart the merchant's attempt at gouging.

I suppose none of this is in any way new to students of the period.  But it is well expressed here, and one can't help but reflect on how poorly it fits with the prevailing patriotic religion, and the vision of the founders has having launched us on an unfettered market economy, and may the best hedge fund win.

Don't misunderstand, I'm a Smithian myself, yessir, mightyproudtosayit.  But I try not to drink too deep of the Kool-ade, and I certainly can imagine an economy (!) with a different vision.  But enough about the founders--tell me, what would Jesus think of credit default swaps?  

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

"what would Jesus think of credit default swaps?"

I'm torn between "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" and the parable about the architect who is hired to build a house, uses incredibly cheap materials, and is rewarded by being given the house.

Leaning toward the latter, though, assuming it actually is somewhere in The Sequel, and not just a shadow memory.