George Washington was not only the first US President and a key figure in the American Revolutionary War… Here, Cyrus A. Ansary(author ofGeorge Washington: Dealmaker-In-Chief Amazon US| Amazon UK) argues that Washington’s economic approach and entrepreneurial mind was key in the years after independence and plays a role to this day in America.
Steve Jobs, who put the iPhone in the pockets of millions of Americans, owed more to George Washington than he could have ever imagined. So do Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, multimedia maven Oprah Winfrey, Mattel’s Ruth Handler, and countless other enterprising Americans who have been among the top 1%. The American culture of entrepreneurship and famously strong economy that encouraged and nurtured their successes did not sprout into being by sheer happenstance. It was the first US President who painstakingly laid the foundation for the entrepreneurial culture to take root in America.
What most of us remember about George Washington’s legacy from history class probably has mostly to do with the Revolutionary War or his unassailable character—not his role in creating the foundation of a flourishing U.S. economy. In fact, many writers and historians assume that Washington knew little or nothing about economics, and attribute the early successes in the field to Alexander Hamilton. As Washington’s Treasury Secretary, Hamilton performed brilliantly in refinancing the nation’s debt structure and creating a national bank. President Washington’s economic blueprint for the country, however, was far broader in scope and modern America owes quite a lot to his strategic vision for the United States.
Stifled by British imperial policies while growing up, George Washington developed a vision of an economic model for the fledgling United States that was based on his own professional experiences. In his private life he was a serial entrepreneur and dealmaker long before those terms were even invented. He drew from those experiences upon becoming President to create laws, policies, and practices designed to create a flourishing entrepreneurial society. To achieve it, he had to overcome serious opposition from many quarters, including from within his own administration. In addition, he also had to deal with the substantial obstacles placed in his path by foreign adversaries. He persevered because he was keenly aware of the unfairness of the British system and understood why and how it had to be changed.
Washington, however, never formally laid out his economic philosophy in the colonial equivalent of a white paper, as the last thing on his mind was to consciously devise a new economic theory. That kind of thinking, then and now, has generally been the province of academics. Washington’s approach was pragmatic, based on his experience working under British colonial rule and seeing very clearly what did not work. He knew that eliminating corruption, dismantling the roadblocks to business formation, fostering a stable national culture, establishing a respected federal judiciary, promoting the availability of private credit, and other similar measures had to happen in order to create a flourishing economy.
During Washington’s tenure in office American society in fact achieved a remarkable transformation, as evidenced by the creation of new commercial enterprises, the general prosperity in cities and towns, the active trade of the United States, and the growing demand for U.S. government debt. The system worked so well that, even with the built-in delays for such a program to mature and bear fruit, the nominal GDP of the United States during the last decade of the 18th century soared by an average of 9.78% per year, enabling the country to catch up with mighty Great Britain in output per capita only 20 years later.
The Impact of Washington’s Economic Approach
Washington’s actions are even more striking when you consider how far the country has come since then. Today the U.S. economy accounts for a large share of global output and provides the basis for our very high standard of living at home. The dollar is the preeminent currency for trade and finance in the world, and investors flock to the U.S. from other lands to pursue interest in our markets. Aside from the resilience and strength of the American economy, its propensity to produce life-changing innovations and technological breakthroughs is an inspiration to others.
Whether or not you’re in the 1% of wealth in the US, we all owe a debt to our first President’s socio-economic vision, which was far more comprehensive than is often credited. His extraordinary ingenuity and his unyielding determination in seeing his vision take root are directly responsible for the foundations that have allowed our economy to flourish. George Washington is, therefore, not only the father of our country, he is also the architect of our special and highly successful economy.
Cyrus A. Ansary has an economics degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and a law degree from Columbia University in New York. He also studied French history at the University of Paris. Ansary was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of American University for almost ten years, after serving as a member of that board for eighteen years. He is now Chairman Emeritus. The university annually awards the Cyrus A. Ansary Medal to a civic or corporate leader selected by its Board of Trustees. In 2014, Mount Vernon awarded the Cyrus A. Ansary Prize for Courage and Character to President George H.W. Bush.
Ansary was also a trustee of the Krupp Foundation in Essen, Germany, a member of the Woodrow Wilson Council in Washington, D.C., a trustee of the Washington Opera Society, and a trustee of the Wolf Trap Foundation in Vienna, Virginia. He was a member of the Life Guard Society of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and is now an emeritus member. Ansary is a member of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., the Economic Club of New York, the National Association for Business Economics, the CFA Society of Washington, D.C., and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the bars of Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Supreme Court. He has been listed for decades in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.