Business World Online
March 7, 2012
Europe’s debt crisis has piqued Europeans’ interest in American precedents for federal finance. For many, Alexander Hamilton has become a contemporary hero. Perhaps one day his face should appear on the 10-euro banknote.
Specifically, for European states groaning under unbearable debt burdens, Hamilton’s negotiation in 1790 of the new federal government’s assumption of the states’ large debts looks like a tempting model. Indeed, after Thomas Sargent won the Nobel Prize in Economics last year, he cited it as a precedent in his acceptance speech.
Hamilton argued — against James Madison and Thomas Jefferson — that the debts accumulated by the states during the War of Independence should be assumed by the federation. There were two sides to his case, one practical, the other philosophical.