This is a cross-post from NewDeal 2.0 — the first entry in a new series I’m doing for that very interesting group blog. The series is a timely one: finance in the founding era, and the founding war between elite high-finance policy and popular-finance ideas of the period — little known today — about economic fairness and radical democracy. This was a war not between Americans and the British government but between Americans and other Americans. A close look at it contradicts Tea Party ideas of founding American history, as well as questioning some liberal preconceptions. And the economic crises of the 18th century will sound surprisingly familiar.
Here’s some of today’s introductory post:
… 18th-century populists came to articulate a radical new idea about the relationship of liberty and equality, anathema to the Tea Party politics of today. Securing true liberty, working Americans of the founding period insisted, requires government to regulate business and finance in the interest of economic fairness. They demanded such things as debt relief, an end to the regressive gold standard, the severing of rights from property, and legal curtailment of mercantile interests. Some wanted progressive taxation; some envisioned a social security program. Their real political ethos directly contradicts current right-wing efforts to cast passive government, unfettered markets, and wholesale tax resistance as the founding values of ordinary America.
Here’s some more:
Historical marginalizing of our founding challenges to economic elites damages current political thinking. Modern progressives seeking precedents in history tend to travel backward through the New Deal, come to a screeching halt at the Populist and Progressive movements, squint approvingly back at Jackson, and fail to focus on the horizon where an economically egalitarian American spirit, more truly radical than Jackson’s, seethes, neglected. Reclaiming that spirit — at the very least exploring it — would have the virtue of denying the Tea Party a monopoly on anything supposedly fundamental about the American founding and American values.
Reclaiming our founding tradition would also give a rest to the endless ideological tug of war over the famous founders. …
I’m expecting to make this series a weekly thing — and I hope people will want to read the whole thing and comment over at New Deal 2.0.