Krugman on Hamilton
Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist, published a piece today on Alexander Hamilton. The first Secretary of the Treasury has been in the news a bit lately, both because of the hit Broadway musical about him and (in a not-unrelated development) his recent reprieve from being replaced on the ten dollar bill. (Andrew Jackson is being moved to the back of the twenty to make room for Harriet Tubman on the front. The back of the ten, which currently features the Treasury Building, will be replaced with a depiction of a 1913 suffragist rally that took place in front of that structure, along with a collage of some sort featuring significant women in American history. Something similar will be done on the back of the five, which will showcase Marian Anderson's performance at the Lincoln Memorial, along with portraits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Krugman acknowledges that he knows next-to-nothing about Hamilton, his biography or the musical. But he did read Hamilton's Report on the Public Credit (1790) and came away very impressed. He is particularly taken with the fact that many of Hamilton's plans anticipated insights of modern economists. Hamilton's position "that the existence of a significant, indeed fairly large national debt would be good for business," made a strong impression on the modern writer. It anticipates the economic concept of the "safe asset shortage," which would suggest that government needs to issue more debt.
I will refer the reader to Krugman's column for the details of his treatment. Despite the fact that Hamilton is more popular and influential than he ever has been in my lifetime, most of that stems from the facts of his life and Lin-Manuel Miranda's depiction of him as a scrappy immigrant who prefigured modern multicultural America. Hamilton is nothing short of amazing in the sophistication of its depictions of the intricacies of the political and economic realities of the early Republic. But it is nice to read a serious economist providing an exposition of some of Hamilton's ideas and applying them to our contemporary scene. I definitely recommend Krugman's column.