John Steele Gordon on America’s Economic Rise

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[00:00:00] Charlie: Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Learning Curve podcast. My name is Charlie Chieppo, and I am a senior fellow at Pioneer Institute, one of your guest co-hosts today, and with me, I’m happy to say, is Derrell Bradford. So welcome, Darrell. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

[00:00:41] Derrell: Hey, I’m the president of 50 Cannon, a longtime admirer of Pioneer Institute and yours. So thanks for having me, man.

[00:00:46] Charlie: Well, thank you. You’re the one, huh? Okay So then let’s get right into the content. Let’s get into our stories of the week. I’m going to kick it off like a moth to the flame [00:01:00] this time, because there is an article that came out this week that raises two issues that I am obsessed with.

[00:01:07] Charlie: One is the ramifications of not teaching history in our public schools, and the other is what I have for a while been calling the most underreported story in Massachusetts, which is the precipitous decline in the performance of our public schools amid pretty large funding increases. And this article is called, Are Massachusetts Teachers Unions Allowing Students to Fail?

[00:01:28] Charlie: And it’s in the current edition of Boston Magazine by a guy named John Keller, who is a local TV personality. So, the brief story here is that in 1993, Massachusetts passed the Education Reform Act that was extremely successful, sort of combined a lot of new money with high standards and accountability for everybody in the system, and some innovation in the form of charter schools, and to make a very long story short it worked really well.

[00:01:59] Charlie: Massachusetts [00:02:00] schools became the best in the nation. And in fact, in 2007, Massachusetts eighth graders even tied for best in the world in eighth grade science. So, the two Massachusetts teachers unions have always opposed large parts of the law. And their opposition. Really led by around 2008, to really the beginning of kind of a systematic dismantling of the law despite its success.

[00:02:25] Charlie: So, fast forward to today, and really all that’s left of the law is something called MCAS, which is the state test that students have to pass in English, math, and science to graduate from high school. Passing the test requires students to perform at about an eighth grade level, and you can take it unlimited times beginning in, 10th grade.

[00:02:46] Charlie: Now, the Mass Teachers Association, which is the largest teachers union in Massachusetts, and arguably the most powerful political interest group in Massachusetts, is trying to initiate a ballot initiative that would end the high school graduation requirement, the requirement that you have to pass these MCAS tests in order to graduate from high school.

[00:03:09] Charlie: If that happens, Massachusetts will be one of the few states that basically has no real high school graduation requirements. I mean, technically you would be required to take gym and a civics course, and this is, this is the part where the history thing comes in, because essentially, you know, one of the big arguments before 1993 was that that was what we had, and everybody agreed it was a horrible idea.

[00:03:34] Charlie: Well, nobody knows anything about what happened before 1993. Only old guys like me still remember it. And so here we go 30 years later and we’re on the verge of going right back to that. Now in 1993, the state’s highest court called public education in Massachusetts, quote, an abysmal failure condemning generations of public school students in poor communities to an inferior education.

[00:03:59] Charlie: So given that, I think the only bright side to the MTA’s effort to get rid of MCAS is their long history of overreach. So last year, you know, in his first appearance before the state board of education, the MTA president Max Page decried, and I quote, “the focus on income and college and career readiness that speaks to a system tied to the capitalist class and its needs for profit.”

[00:04:29] Charlie: So, Paul Harrington, an economist who spent years directing the Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies, and is hardly a member of that capitalist class, heard that and called it like 1850 Karl Marx. That will be enough overreach or will be the start of enough overreach to get state voters to save this last vestige of this very successful ed reform act and hopefully we can start building on reform rather than tearing it down.[00:05:00]

[00:05:00] Derrell: Well, I mean, it’s great that they left the gym requirement and the civics requirement in because at least then when you recognize the republic is collapsing, you’ll be in shape to run for the door.

[00:05:12] Derrell: I mean, this is actually an interesting segue, though. I think this is super important. We didn’t pick these jointly, but they do matter.

I would like to highlight a story from Virginia this week called Virginia Department of Education begins deploying a new accountability system. And I want to set it up for the old heads with a line from Beauty and the Beast, that this is a tale as old as time because Secretary Amy Gadara, who, who is a longtime data driven reform minded person and her deputy, Our new deputy, Emily Ann Gullickson, who’s a good friend of mine, they’re very results oriented people, and more importantly, they’re very transparency oriented people. Virginia, a long time obfuscator of how kids were [00:06:00] doing through the amazing powers of homogenization and low cut scores is in the middle of a big fight with them and the current board, which is, Which is heavily populated with Governor Youngkin’s appointees to actually put like a parallel system of not even accountability, as I would describe it of transparency in play. That is actually based on student achievement and much like Massachusetts, Virginia, and lots of other states. New Jersey included, which tried this whole thing with getting rid of the high school exit exam earlier this year. So you are, you’re not unique in this, although I’m sure some would argue that Massachusetts and New Jersey grow from the same root.

[00:06:42] Derrell: But the, or at least the teachers’ unions do. The challenge I think for everybody is that one, we were making it easy to look good pre pandemic. Two, things are much worse. post pandemic than anyone wants to admit. You can look the N. W. E. A. Data on that. And three, we spent $190 billion to fix it and didn’t fix anything. And the money went up in smoke. I was joking with somebody and saying you’d have, it probably would have been better to wheel the money out to time square in the middle of the winter and set it on fire because at least then somebody would have gotten warm.

[00:07:18] Derrell: So it’s, it’s very frustrating to see. That in some ways we’re fighting a rearguard action just on knowing where kids are in like the simplest way without even getting the stakes when what we should be talking about is how we create a universe that like helps us measure all the innovation that is happening in the world and that puts more information in the hands of parents so they could make better decisions and assemble their own educations better.

[00:07:46] Derrell: Like we could be on the shoulder of that. And too many people seem to want to go another movie reference back to the future on accountability.

[00:07:53] Charlie: You’re making me at least feel like at least it’s not just us, so that’s good. Boy, [00:08:00] you are correct. Those two are certainly related, aren’t they? Well, thank you for that, Derrell.

[00:08:05] Charlie: And we will be back in a minute with John Steele Gordon, who is the author of An Empire of Wealth, The Epic History of American Economic Power.

[00:08:43] Derrell: John Steele Gordon has been writing about business, economic, and technological history for more than 35 years. He is the author of 10 books, which have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic. These include Hamilton’s Blessing, The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, The Great Game, The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, The Business of America, Tales from the Marketplace, and an empire of wealth, the Epic History of American Economic Power. Mr. Gordon was a contributing editor at American Heritage and wrote its Business of America column for 20 years. He’s also a contributing editor at Philanthropy Magazine, wrote the Long View column on business history for Barron for 10 years, writes the From the Vault column for ABA Banking Journal, and frequently authors pieces for the Wall Street Journal, City Journal, and the New Criterion. Mr. Gordon has been a frequent interviewee for TV history documentaries, including Rick Burns’ New York, a documentary film. He earned a B. A. in history from Vanderbilt University.

[00:09:49] Charlie: Your book, An Empire of Wealth, The Epic History of American Economic Power, remains the best one volume popular history of the economic rise of the U. S. The Roman Empire had their [00:10:00] legions, the British Empire had its colonies and America became a global power because of our… Economy’s ability to create wealth. Would you share with us a few of the big picture keys to America’s historic transformation into the world’s foremost economic power?

[00:10:14] John Steele Gordon: number one was we were founded by the English who had always been the least governed country in Europe, they pretty much, let us do what we please.

[00:10:26] John Steele Gordon: I mean, this is known as benign neglect And, they allowed us to establish legislatures and, figure out how to run a government whereas in the Spanish colonies, the government came out from Spain and the locals had no say whatsoever in how things were run. And so, when they became independent, they had no idea how to run a country and that had great consequences for them.

[00:10:48] John Steele Gordon: Another thing, very, very important. was that the United States was largely militarily invulnerable. The only exception to that was when the, when this country, for imperialistic reasons declared war on England, which was literally the only country in the world capable of attacking the United States.

[00:11:07] John Steele Gordon: So, after the War of 1812, which we very luckily got out of with a draw, military expenditures in the United States were very, very low, which meant that taxes could be very, very low, which meant that people had more money to invest and that had a lot of consequences. Another one was that we didn’t have an aristocracy or a built in…

[00:11:29] John Steele Gordon: Economic aristocracy we were pretty much an undeveloped country and there were no great fortunes to control the economy so anybody could get ahead. And of course, one other reason was that the United States had infinite natural resources. It was quite remarkable, both a continental power in size of the country, but we’re also an island power in our national security. I mean, so it was the best of both possible worlds.

[00:11:57] Charlie: Right, Interesting.[00:12:00] Well, the distinctiveness of the new Republic’s economic assent wasn’t exclusively about the money, as you say, but it was also about this experiment in ordered liberty an immigrant from the island of Nevis, Alexander Hamilton, assimilated aspects British legal, political, and financial institutions, as you mentioned into the political economy of the founding era.

[00:12:20] Charlie: Could you talk about Hamilton, you know, his 18th century views of trade, banking, finance, how he harmonized American constitutionalism market economics to establish the stability on which prosperity could be built.

[00:12:33] John Steele Gordon: Sure. one of the great coincidences in, in history, I’m at least as an economic historian, I certainly think so, is that the United States declared its independence from Britain in 1776. Well, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776. And it had an immediate and enormous impact on the thinking of the American Founding Fathers, especially Alexander Hamilton. and [00:13:00] so we were by far the most Smithian nation in the world because again, we didn’t have an established economic aristocracy who could prevent people from doing as they pleased. And we could make ourselves as we please much more than any other country could.

[00:13:15] Charlie: Interesting. Wow. I, you know, I did not realize that. Coincidence of, Adam Smith and that being published in, in 1776, The Wealth of Nations. That’s fascinating. As the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson established the U.S. Patent Office, which secures exclusive rights allowing American inventors to profit from their own ideas. Over 200 years and nearly 8 million patents later, Jefferson’s patent project has safeguarded America’s intellectual property. Would you discuss the role that intellectual, and copyrights have played in supporting and protecting American innovations and economic success?

[00:13:52] John Steele Gordon: Well, patents and copyrights and trademarks have always been very important, but Thomas Jefferson did not invent the concept of the patent that’s been existing since Elizabethan England. but he certainly within the constitution that we could do this.

[00:14:11] John Steele Gordon: And so he did it. And that was very important, but you’ve got to remember that while the patent office protected and the copyright office protected American patents and copyrights, they did not protect foreign ones. So, we were more than happy to indulge in industrial espionage. And I mean, for instance, there was a man in England, Samuel Slater was his name, and he was an apprentice in the textile industry, which Great Britain was determined to protect. You couldn’t export textile machinery if you were a important player in the textile industry, you could not emigrate. And so what he did was he memorized how to make the machinery and then he snuck out of Britain as a farm laborer.

[00:15:02] John Steele Gordon: He didn’t even write his mother to tell her that he was going until about an hour before the ship sailed. He got to Rhode Island and promptly built the first textile industry in this country. And we were off to the races and we continued doing this for years. Now, and, you know, even in, especially in copyrights, I mean, for instance, again, I’m a Gilbert and Sullivan fan and Gilbert and Sullivan opened the Pirates of Penzance, not in London, but in New York.

[00:15:32] John Steele Gordon: And the reason for that was there were 10 companies playing HMS Pinafore in New York, none of them playing royalties to Gilbert and Sullivan. So, the only way they had to protect their copyright was to open in New York. And so, you know, we, nowadays, you know, the. These are famous for their industrial espionage, but we are not exactly virginal in that regard.

[00:15:56] Charlie: So, I’m curious now, was there a difference [00:16:00] or was there anything unusual then about the way that we dealt with patents and copyrights and trademarks or were other countries of the time, did they have regimes when it came to that?

[00:16:12] John Steele Gordon: No, they were pretty much the same. I think they all copied England. Yeah.

[00:16:16] Charlie: Okay. Okay. Interesting. Okay. Slavery is America’s original sin and the main cause of the Civil War, which produced 620,000 dead and a million casualties. Still amazing when you read those numbers today. Could you talk about the moral and economic impact of slavery on America? As well as the tariff battles and antebellum in the antebellum years that were the source of so much political and economic turmoil between the North and South.

[00:16:43] John Steele Gordon: slavery began in this country. And remember that when this country was born 1607, the first settling of Virginia, slavery was legal everywhere in the world. I mean, it was just considered the world worked and nobody thought of slavery as a moral issue [00:17:00] until the middle of the 18th century. So, when the first, you know, in the 1619 project that, excrescence of any history they called this, started in 1619.

[00:17:12] John Steele Gordon: No, these were blacks immigrants from Africa who were sold as indentured servants. And once their indentures were paid off, just like immigrants from England they were free. They were given land by the colony of Virginia. And many of them became successful farmers, and some of them ended up owning slaves themselves.

[00:17:32] John Steele Gordon: It wasn’t until later that the slavery system really began, especially after the number of indentured servants coming from England began to dry up. in about the 1750s, that the idea that slavery was inherently immoral, was born. Once that idea appeared, it changed the world very, very quickly. I mean, Benjamin Franklin in the 1730s owned two slaves, which worked in his printing plant.

[00:17:59] John Steele Gordon: In the 1750s, he wrote a famous essay on how slavery was economically always going to be inefficient because slaves aren’t going to work any harder than they have to. to avoid the whip. I mean, they’re not going to go to the extra mile for the benefit of somebody else, right? By 1780s, he was president of the Pennsylvania Manumission Society, the first manumission society in the world.

[00:18:22] John Steele Gordon: The first jurisdiction to outlaw slavery was in Vermont in 1777. Now to be sure, there were about four slaves in Vermont at that time. So, it was fairly easy to do. But by 1827, all of the northern states had gotten rid of slavery, and it would have been gone in the south too, except for… The fact that Eli Whitney, who never owned a slave in his life, was born and brought up in Connecticut invented the cotton gin.

[00:18:49] John Steele Gordon: And this revolutionized the cotton trade because it made cotton the most profitable plantation crop in the world. But unfortunately, [00:19:00] cotton is a labor-intensive crop because cotton is easily invaded by weeds, and you have to use hoes to go between the cotton plants, hoeing out the weeds. And this is called chopping cotton.

[00:19:13] John Steele Gordon: And in the summer of the American South, chopping cotton was no fun at all. And so, the South began to protect slavery. They also had an ever-increasing capital investment in slavery because in 1800, you could have bought a field hand for 300. By 1860, they cost 2,000. And so, they were unwilling to, Get rid of slavery and they kept coming up with utterly specious intellectual justifications for how they were actually doing the slaves a favor.

[00:19:42] John Steele Gordon: Yeah, right you know, I don’t think there’s ever been a case for somebody volunteered to become a slave because it was such a great way to live.

[00:19:49] Charlie: I suspect you’re right.

[00:19:53] John Steele Gordon: And so anyway, so finally it took a civil war, And the biggest war America has [00:20:00] ever fought was the American civil we lost six hundred and twenty thousand people in that war went on a population of about 30 million.

[00:20:07] John Steele Gordon: We lost 400,000 II with a population of a hundred million. So, it was by far the biggest war fought in the Western world between Napoleonic wars and World War I. But we finally did get rid of slavery.

[00:20:21] Charlie: Yeah, it’s fascinating. You know, when you put those numbers together, the 620,000 dead, the context of a much smaller population, it makes me think of, you know, when you read the numbers of Soviet Russian citizens lost in World War II.

[00:20:36] Charlie: On that kind of a mind boggling, it’s just very, yeah, very interesting, very interesting context there. Thank you. I’m going to turn you over to Derrell now.

[00:20:48] Derrell:  To pick up the theme of the Civil War, you know, America’s gross domestic product grew at double the rate of Western Europe’s after the Civil War, and it was driven by rapid growth and [00:21:00] banking and railroads and manufacturing And at the center of this are some. Now household names like JP Morgan and John D Rockefeller and Andrew. Carnegie and other folks who played a central role in all of that in the Gilded Age. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

[00:21:17] John Steele Gordon:  Sure. Well, after the Civil War the Civil War, despite its horrible cost, empowered this country in many ways.

[00:21:27] John Steele Gordon: people began to think if we can deal with this, we can do anything. And in the next 35 years, the American economy exploded in size and became by far the largest in the world. By 1900, there were books coming out in, in Europe about how, you know, the American Colossus and, and, you know, how that’s going to be a problem.

[00:21:51] John Steele Gordon: Britain at that time decided that they’re number one. Foreign policy would be to be to the United States is best friend. A policy that [00:22:00] paid them enormous dividends in both world wars. And again, what happened was that American military fell to trivial sums. So, taxes were extremely low. And they had a high tariff because we’d run up an enormous national debt in the civil war, and we had a high tariff to pay it off, which we did.

[00:22:21] John Steele Gordon: And by 1915, John D. Rockefeller could have paid off all the American national debt and remained the richest man in the world. It was that small. So, these people, this brand new technology that was coming, oil, was, you know, first discovered in 1859. It wasn’t discovered that we could drill for oil.

[00:22:41] John Steele Gordon: It was discovered in 1859. And Carnegie seized the new steel, because steel had to be a semi-precious metal. It was so expensive to manufacture. And then he invented, a way to make steel on a mass basis in 1857. And [00:23:00] so steel suddenly became cheap.

[00:23:02] John Steele Gordon: And so, the steel industry grew by leaps and bounds, and J. P. Morgan was the most powerful banker, certainly in American history, perhaps the most powerful banker who ever lived. His word was really law, and in 1907, when there was a panic on Wall Street, and it wasn’t, we didn’t have a central bank in 1907, and, and so there wasn’t much the government could do.

[00:23:29] John Steele Gordon: And basically, they turned it over to J. P. Morgan and said, you know, solve the problem, and he did. And that’s actually how we got, finally got the Federal Reserve, because we realized that what J. P. Morgan could do that nobody else could, and he wasn’t going to live forever. In fact, the Federal Reserve came into existence in 1913, which is the year that J.

[00:23:49] John Steele Gordon: P. Morgan died. By 1900, Wall Street was every bit the equal. Of London as a financial center and J.P. Morgan was as well-known [00:24:00] in Europe as he was in this country. He spoke fluent French and German He’s very well-educated man. it was just a golden opportunity and we just seized it like crazy and became the largest economy in the world by far which we remain.

[00:24:16] Derrell: Yeah, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the person who figured out how-to Mass-produced steel might have been John Steele Gordon.

[00:24:22] Derrell: This is your first last bad pun of the podcast, sir. So, you mentioned the role of war, obviously, and economic benefits. And we talked earlier about how America’s sort of protected by two oceans. All these other things is kept it out of war while helping it’s economy grow. But World War One and World War Two also have a serious, like a great financial impact on everyone.

[00:24:48] Derrell: In 1919 the Allies owed the U. S. and its banks 11 billion. And just to your point, obviously, financial sort of center of the world moved from

[00:24:58] Derrell: London to New York. [00:25:00] Can you talk about the culmination of the two world wars and programs like Lend Lease and what effect those had on helping America, anchor itself become the great economic and industrial power that it has become?

[00:25:16] John Steele Gordon: Well, remember that in his farewell speech, George Washington told people to be careful of entangling alliances, and we hadn’t had any to really speak of. And even when World War I started, we started financing the Allies, because one thing, the Germans were blockaded in, they couldn’t borrow money if they wanted to.

[00:25:37] John Steele Gordon: But I think by 1916, remember, in 1916, Wilson ran for reelection on the, motto that he kept us out of war. Well, he was inaugurated for a second term, March 4th, 1917, and he asked Congress for a declaration of war on April 17th, 1917. And I think part of that was we were afraid the allies was going to lose, and then there goes our [00:26:00] 11 billion we had left.

[00:26:02] John Steele Gordon: But once we, the war was over, once the allies had won the United States tried to retreat back into its fortress and it couldn’t do that anymore. I mean, it expected the allies to pay back their debts which they couldn’t really afford. And we didn’t join the League of Nations. We didn’t act as a leader anymore.

[00:26:21] John Steele Gordon: We wanted to let our garden grow, as, Voltaire said. And it was, remember John F. Kennedy in the speech that he did not live to deliver in Dallas. wrote that we in this country are, by destiny rather than by choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. And we did not recognize that in the 1920s and 30s, and the result unquestionably was World War II.

[00:26:45] John Steele Gordon: By far the greatest war in world history, and certainly the bloodiest. After the war, we lend leave, we never, And to get the, the allies to pay their money back and we began to lead the world because as John F. Kennedy said, it [00:27:00] was our destiny, not our choice. And also World War II, remember the United States economy doubled during World War II.

[00:27:08] John Steele Gordon: I mean, it took the civilian economy that existed in 1940 and built a military economy of size on top of it. It was just an extraordinary what we did. And even Stalin at the Tehran conference in 1943, so that’s been toasted the American industry saying this war could not have been won without it.

[00:27:30] Derrell: Okay final unrelated question for you. So obviously, like, I think it’s pretty obvious that some of the greatest companies are the most innovative companies on the face of the planet are located in the United States. We have Apple, Microsoft, there’s Hollywood, there’s Google, there’s Amazon. Still, the national debt is over $30 trillion dollars. It’s hard to say it out loud without laughing. For decades, we’ve also run huge trade deficits, quarter after quarter[00:28:00] with our main competitors in Europe and Asia. Could you talk about the current state of American finance and business and your Rejections regarding the nation’s global economic competitiveness in the 21st century?

[00:28:13] John Steele Gordon: Well, the national debt is a national disgrace. you know, I wrote a history of the national debt called Hamilton’s blessing because Hamilton wrote that a national debt will be for us a national blessing if it is not excessive. And it was a national blessing. It would allow us to win the Civil War.

[00:28:31] John Steele Gordon: It allowed us to get through the great depression allowed us to win World War II. But In the last 50 years, the budgetary process in Washington has simply totally collapsed. And the reason for that, basically, is it was an act passed in 1974 called the Budget Control Act. Which was the most misnamed piece of legislation in American history because the budget immediately went out of control [00:29:00] because the president was removed from having any power and it became the plaything of 535 members of Congress.

[00:29:08] John Steele Gordon: You know, remember in Washington, only the president has a national perspective. Everybody else… I have a parochial perspective. And while they, you know, they want American fiscal discipline, they also have to bring home the bacon. And how do you get things done in Congress? That’s very simple. I’ll vote for your boondoggle.

[00:29:25] John Steele Gordon: If you’ll vote for mine. Yeah. And this is called log rolling and this is what happened. And now the, now here it is. What is September 19th, the fiscal year ends. September 30th. How many of the budgetary bills have been passed by the House? Exactly one. And the last time they published or passed all 11 of them was maybe in the 1990s during that brief period after the, you [00:30:00] know, in the election of 1994 when the Republicans swept into power.

[00:30:04] John Steele Gordon: And they actually did a pretty good job of keeping the budget under control since then. It’s just a mess how much money can we borrow before things really go off the rails? We won’t know that until it happens. I mean, just like in the 1970s, New York City. Went down to Wall Street and said, here’s a new bond issue and Wall Street said, no, we’re not going to, we’re not going to underwrite this.

[00:30:28] John Steele Gordon: You don’t have any money. You’re broke. And that’s one of these days that’s going to happen to the United States unless we get control of the budget. And how we do that, I don’t know because, you know, the people would have to reform it or the people who have short term interest in not reforming it.

[00:30:47] Derrell: Sir, we’d love to have you read a little bit of your book for us if you’re up to it.

[00:30:52] John Steele Gordon: Okay, this is from the end of the pre-Civil War era. The American economy in [00:31:00] the first decades of the adoption of the Constitution had proved one of the wonders of the world. The country’s territory had more than tripled, and its population had increased eightfold. But the size of the economy had expanded by a factor of 18 or more.

[00:31:15] John Steele Gordon: A string of small state, large agricultural economies had expanded across half a continent. American manufacturers had grown from trivial to one of the world’s leading concentrations of industry. A transportation and communications net had been created that was the largest on Earth. But it was still an unfinished economy.

[00:31:36] John Steele Gordon: While the United States had more railroad trackers than any country in the world by 1860, It’s still imported much of its rails and rolling stock from England, as it did most of its steel, a metal that was becoming increasingly important. more sectional political forces were increasingly pulling the country apart across a north south divide, despite an ever more integrated national [00:32:00] economy.

[00:32:00] John Steele Gordon: As it turned out, these forces could not be successfully contained by political means, despite decades of effort. What Sir Winston Churchill called the most inevitable conflict ever fought by the English-speaking peoples would prove the most consequential event in American history. For while the American Union had been created by the Revolution, the American nation would be forged only upon the awful anvil of the Civil War.

[00:32:26] Charlie: Thank you very much. That’s great. It really gives you something to think about.

[00:32:32] John Steele Gordon: Nobody’s ever made money selling the United States short. And it was also as Churchill once said, the Americans could be dependent upon to do the right thing once they have exhausted the alternatives.

[00:32:46] Charlie: That’s one of his great ones.

[00:32:49] Charlie: Well, this, was great. There’s really thoughtful, interesting stuff. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

[00:32:55] John Steele Gordon: Okay. Happy to do it.[00:33:00]

[00:33:23] Charlie: Well, thank you again to John Steele Gordon. That was a great and enlightening interview. Just want to quickly hit our tweet of the week. And this week it is from Education Next. It came out on September 16th. It is a tweet on a new article by Tom Loveless called California’s new math framework doesn’t add up.

[00:33:43] Charlie: So, seems like even in the aftermath of Common Core, there are still math wars and some curriculum wars or standards wars, I should say going on. So, I urge you to have a look at that. And next week, please join us again. We’re going to have Laura Thompson [00:34:00] she’s a, a New York Times bestseller from Britain and the author of Agatha Christie’s A Mysterious Life.

[00:34:06] Charlie: Derrell it’s been a pleasure. Thank you. we’ve sort of missed each other up until now, been in sort of parallel universes, but have never actually connected. And it’s really been a pleasure to co host with you today. Yeah,

[00:34:17] Derrell: I mean, I think it’s like the movie Tenet as well, so it was delightful and thanks for having me.

[00:34:23] Charlie: All right, I hope we do it again. And thank you all for listening to this week’s edition of Learning Curve. We’ll see you next week.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Derrell Bradford interview John Steele Gordon, the author of 10 books on business, economic, and technology history. They discuss the keys to America’s transformation into the world’s foremost economic power, from its grounding in British legal, political, and financial institutions into the political economy of the Founding era, with the establishment of intellectual property law and copyrights. Mr. Gordon analyzes the economic impact of the Civil War, slavery, tariff battles, and key figures from the Gilded Age, as well as how America emerged from two world wars to become a financial powerhouse. He assesses the innovation that has created global giants such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, and the U.S.’s massive national debt and economic prospects for competitiveness in the twenty-first century. Mr. Gordon concludes the interview with a reading from his book An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power.

Stories of the Week: Charlie discussed a story from Boston Magazine on how Massachusetts teachers’ unions oppose charter public schools, MCAS testing, and state oversight, even as they seek ever more funding and student performance declines. Derrell cited a story in the Virginia Mercury about that state’s development of a new K-12 accountability system.


John Steele Gordon has been writing about business, economic, and technological history for more than 35 years. He is the author of 10 books, which have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic. These include Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt; The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power (made into a two-hour special by CNBC); The Business of America: Tales from the Marketplace; and An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power. Mr. Gordon was a contributing editor at American Heritage and wrote its “Business of America” column for 20 years. He is also a contributing editor at Philanthropy Magazine; wrote the “Long View” column on business history for Barrons for 10 years; writes the “From the Vault” column for ABA Banking Journal; and frequently authors pieces for the Wall Street Journal, City Journal, and The New Criterion. Mr. Gordon has been a frequent interviewee for TV history documentaries, including Ric Burn’s New York: a Documentary Film. He earned a BA in history from Vanderbilt University.

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