My recent blogging hiatus was caused by a splendid family vacation in Key West, rendered yet more enjoyable by a chance encounter with our dear friends, Nick and Mary Eberstadt. Our temporary abodes were separated by a single block of Duval Street, occupied by a liquor store, a wonderful French bakery, and a raucous transvestite bar. (Mrs. Eberstadt professed to “resent these people. Their nail polish is so much better than mine.”) A good time was had by all.
In an approximation of work, I zipped through Thomas K. McCraw’s The Founders and Finance, a magnificent, just-published book on “How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy.” Familiar ground to be sure, but McCraw—arguably the country’s finest business historian—covers it elegantly, judiciously, and with a keen eye for the telling detail. His big detail is the amazing extent to which the nation’s young economy and institutions were shaped by immigrants—Hamilton and Gallatin, but also many others (Robert Morris). The recent arrivals lacked a connection to any particular state; thus, they were predisposed to think on a national, continental scale. And they lacked any deep connection to land and the peculiar institution that in many states went along with it; thus, they were anti-slavery, and they understood the ism in capitalism and its lifeblood, credit. As McCraw acknowledges, you can find non-immigrant Founders with those sensibilities (Gouverneur Morris is a fine example). But the basic point stands, and it’s worth pondering.