Monday, April 6, 2015

Jefferson and Hamilton in our century

"Jefferson and Hamilton. The Rivalry that Forged a Nation," by the historian John Ferling, is a fascinating book that provides ideas not only about the past, but also about the future. Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the USA, and Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and forger of the US Constitution that left behind the Articles of Confederation, were bitter political enemies. But the system that resulted from the synthesis of their opposed ideas has been long lasting. The federalism of the XXI Century will equally be a set of principles that not only deal with “territorial” issues, but also with issues of democracy and economic policy and principles. The ideas of Jefferson and Hamilton were crafted in the eighteenth century, but they resonate today in our contemporary controversies. Hamilton was in favour of a strong federal government, and of a centralized industrial policy. He represented the financial  urban interests, and his thought expressed fears of a democracy without constraints. He associated federalism with the need to provide checks and balances and with a sustainable economy in a huge market. Jefferson was egalitarian, a true believer in the democratic ideas of the American revolution, but he was also a representative of the rural owners. He at the same time expressed distrust for a strong federation, and was in favour of a republican, anti-aristocratic society. Today, we need a federal architecture in the world that is functional precisely to achieve a stable egalitarian democracy, otherwise it is hard to see how welfare can be exported beyond small territories and social groups, and how markets can be at the same time promoted and regulated at the optimal scale. The majority of individuals that live in a democracy do so in federations. Economists such as Piketty or Milanovic teach us that in the world of today it is a fallacy that we can solve our democratic and social problems with a weak coordination of sovereign national governments. We need to build federations. There are still too many articles of confederation in the XXI Century.

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