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The Posthumous Wisdom of A.D. White

The guys over at Kitsch have come up with a gem of a Cornell-related news tidbit...

In writing about the current economic scene, a recent op-ed contributor for Toronto's Globe and Mail references A.D. White's history of monetary collapse in pot-revolutionary France -- Fiat Money Inflation in France. What's amusing, though, is that he claims the book was written only fifty years ago -- well after A.D. White's death. But thankfully a loyal alumnus, Trineesh Biswas '01, comes to the rescue:

As a Cornell University alumnus, I must point out that Andrew Dickson White died in November of 1918. The university's first president and author of Fiat Money, Inflation in France was thus in no position to have written his treatise on inflation in revolutionary France (or, indeed, anything else) 50 years ago, as Avner Mandelman claims (U.S. Stimulus Package Threatens To Let History Repeat Itself - Report on Business, Feb. 14).

We can only hope that Mr. Mandelman's gloomy prognostications about the futility of debt-fuelled fiscal stimulus will prove to be equally inaccurate.

At any rate, I'm not an economic historian of monetary collapse -- not by a long shot -- but it strikes me as comparisons of the present situation to post-Revolutionary France is a bit of a stretch, especially given the incredibly strong demand that the United States is currently enjoying for its debt. Put another way, we're not printing money to satisfy our deficit spending, and bolstering aggregate demand today through government investments in this country's future productivity can go a long way towards improving our abillity to pay down our public debt in the future.

But reading through White's work, though, it kind of makes you wonder what era and nation he was referring to:

Even worse than this was the breaking down of the morals of the country at large, resulting from the sudden building up of ostentatious wealth in a few large cities, and from the gambling, speculative spirit spreading from these to the small towns and rural districts. From this was developed an even more disgraceful result,--the decay of a true sense of national good faith.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 24, 2009 (#)

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