Vail Daily column: Classic fight over who gets economic boost
Recent battles in health care are part of an economic war our nation has fought since its founding. Alexander Hamilton, the first treasury secretary, supported economic winners. He believed wealthy people should be rewarded with more riches, and then they would stimulate and direct booming economies, creating jobs for the middle class and those escaping poverty.
Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, the first secretary of state, showed mutual animosity because they differed on who should receive economic boosts. Jefferson focused on farmers and local merchants’ financial interests. He believed government investment should be directed toward hardworking common citizens instead of the well-heeled.
The doomed Republican Senate health care proposal had Hamilton’s hand shaping it. The version before its collapse kept the Affordable Care Act’s taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples whose income is above $250,000.
Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, interjected a proposal that on its surface looked as if it would help struggling Americans. He wanted to allow insurers to sell barebones policies along with those offered by the Affordable Care Act.
Cruz’s proposal split the market. Healthy, younger people would invest in comprehensive coverage. The neediest with pre-existing conditions would find their premiums hiked in a pool of those with the severest health risks.
“That is like allowing car companies to sell cars without air bags, bumpers or emergency brakes,” remarked Delaware Sen. Chris Coons. “It might make the cars cheaper, but the cars are too dangerous to drive.” The Wall Street Journal reports how “premiums will surge for sicker people.” (“Delayed vote dims outlook on health care,” July 17, 2017, pp. A1, A4)
Jefferson saw himself as a farmer who supported those who tilled the earth. When the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 opened territory north of the Ohio River, he feared Wall Street speculators would buy huge chunks of land and make real estate unaffordable for pioneers.
Delivering a report on opening the West to common folk, Jefferson wrote to President George Washington, “Our citizens have had too full a taste of the comforts furnished by the arts and manufactures to be debarred the use of them. We must then in our own defense endeavor to share as large a portion as we can of this modern source of wealth and power.” (“Jefferson: Architect of Liberty,” by John B. Boles, p. 118, Basic Book, 2017)
Moreover, Jefferson and Hamilton clashed over Revolutionary War veterans’ investments. Soldiers, farmers and other patriotic citizens purchased bonds to finance Washington’s army. After the War, these bonds sunk in value and were bought up by wealth speculators.
In 1790, Hamilton wanted these bonds “concentrated in the hands of a relatively few capitalists and merchants who would use the assets to fire the national economy.” James Madison and Jefferson strenuously objected, siding with common people ripped off by bond speculators (“Jefferson: Architect of Liberty,” pp. 214-15).
Hamiltonian GOP economists Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman, along with House Speaker Paul Ryan, advocate boosting the economy by making the rich wealthier. They endorse philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand’s conviction that rich super-achievers should reap financial rewards from the government’s investment in them.
Rand rejected Christianity because of its compassion for the poor. She declared “the weak would never be able to create an equivalent level of progress or prosperity on their own, and they benefit from its creation by those more competent and motivated than themselves.” (“Ayn Rand and the World She Made,” Anne C. Heller, p. 140, Doubleday, 2009)
Because Jefferson’s concern for middle-class and poor Americans was missing in the doomed GOP’s health care proposal, it lacked support from most citizens.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.