03 January 2011

An adviser to the White House opines:

"If we get to the point where you've damaged the full faith and credit of the United States, that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity," he said.

"We shouldn't even be discussing that. People will get the wrong idea. The United States is not in danger of default. … This would be lumping us in with a series of countries through history that I don't think we would want to be lumped in with."

Like France in the 1780s?

How grave was France's predicament after the American war? It had, it is true, run up an imposing debt, but one that was no worse than comparable debts incurred in fighting the other wars deemed equally essential to sustain the nation's position as a great power. Those quick to condemn the ministers of Louis XVI for their hopeless prodigality might pause to reflect that no state with imperial pretensions has, in fact, ever subordinated what it takes to be irreducible military interests to the considerations of a balanced budget. And like apologists for powerful military force in twentieth-century America and the Soviet Union, advocates of similar 'indispensable' resources in eighteenth-century France pointed to the country's vast demographic and economic reserves and a flourishing economy to sustain the burden. Indeed the prospering of that economy was, they claimed, contingent on such military expenditure, both directly in naval bases like Brest and Toulon, and indirectly in the protection it gave to the most rapidly expanding sector of the economy.

From Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. This is a book every new U.S. Congressman should read (preferably in lieu of attending Michelle Bachmann's Constitution classes).

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