Professor Propaganda

A reader writes:

I have just been assigned a paper for American History at my college in which I must:

“1. Explain how checks and balances (Federal and State) provided for in the Constitution limit the government’s ability to respond to the impending climate crisis.

“2. Explain how the controversy of the US Bank reveals populist distrust of government regulation of the economy. Explain how politics of the two party system affected the controversy about the U.S. Bank, and how it might affect dealing with the climate crisis. Explain how the laissez-faire attitude of the American ideology makes it difficult to respond to the climate crisis.”

Now you don’t need me to tell you that this alleged assignment is an exercise in propaganda, in which the students are expected to take a host of value judgments (and I’m not even referring to the “climate change” stuff) for granted.

I especially like item number two. I would be willing to bet half my bank account that this professor has not exactly combed the writings of the monetary theorists of the 1830s. By presenting the fight over the Bank as a “populist” issue, he indicates his belief in the usual, long-discredited comic-book version of the event, in which stupid yokels who didn’t understand finance brought well-deserved ruin on themselves by foolishly tearing down the benevolent Bank.

Left out, naturally, is the proto-Austrian business-cycle theory of people like William Leggett and William Gouge, the latter of whom was by far the most important monetary theorist of the time. They and others did not oppose the bank for “populist” reasons. They opposed it for economic reasons primarily, and to a much lesser degree for political and constitutional reasons. No one could read Gouge’s A Short History of Paper Money and Banking in the United States and come away thinking opponents of the bank must have been yokels. Opponents of the bank were a diverse lot, to be sure, but as Jeff Hummel concluded in his review of the literature, ”The attack on the Bank was a fully rational and highly enlightened step toward the achievement of a laissez-faire metallic monetary system.”

If you have any suggestions on how this student might approach this assignment without violating his conscience, please share them in the comments. If you think it is morally wrong for a professor to promote his personal views in the guise of an “assignment,” especially when he seems more familiar with his own ideological prejudices than he does with the primary sources of the historical episode in question, feel free to write a (cordial) letter to Assistant Dean of Faculty Jeanette Bravo:

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