Building Out The New Economy – An American Tradition

September 27, 2011

Rachel Maddow, above,  has a timely and insightful historical view of government investments in infrastructure and technology.

While on a family trip to the east coast this past summer, we drove thru the graceful Mohawk Valley on Interstate 90- one of the most green, soft and soothing landscapes imaginable. That’s a place I could live.

Looking to the north, wind turbines could be seen slowly whirring, and along the road side, I noticed a number of historical markers indicating bits and pieces of the old Erie Canal. It made me wonder – how did large engineering projects, aimed at improving communication and commerce, get built in traditional America – before evil socialists took over?

Today’s Tea Partiers would  have us believe that loan guarantees to jump start what is obviously the industry of the future, renewable energy, are evil – but prescribe exactly those kinds of guarantees to promote nuclear energy, despite the Congressional Budget Office’s evaluation that “risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high—well above 50 percent.”

Purists will, I  hope forgive me if I consult Wiki -

The advocate who finally got the canal built was entrepreneur Jesse Hawley. He envisioned growing huge quantities of grain on the Western New York plains, then largely unsettled, for sale on the Eastern Seaboard. He went bankrupt, however, trying to ship it to the coast. While in Canandaigua debtors’ prison, he started pressing for the construction of a canal along the 90-mile-long Mohawk River and valley. He had strong support from Joseph Ellicott, agent for the Holland Land Company in Batavia. Ellicott realized that a canal would add immense value to the land he was selling in the western part of the state. Ellicott later became the first canal commissioner.

The Mohawk River, a tributary of the Hudson, runs in a glacial meltwater channel across the Appalachians in New York state, separating them into the Catskills and Adirondacks. The Mohawk Valley was the only cut across the Appalachians north of Alabama, and led almost directly from the Hudson River in the east to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie in the west. From there, much of the interior and many settlements would be accessible by the Great Lakes and related rivers.

The problem was that the land rises about 600 feet (180 m) from the Hudson to Lake Erie. Locks at the time could handle up to 12 feet (3.7 m), so at least fifty locks would be required along the 360 miles (580 km) canal. Such a canal would cost a fortune even today; in 1800 the expense was barely imaginable. President Jefferson called it “a little short of madness” and rejected it. Nevertheless, Hawley managed to interest New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. There was much opposition, and the project was scorned as “Clinton’s Folly,” or “Clinton’s Ditch.” But in 1817 Clinton got the legislature to appropriate $7 million for construction.

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4 Responses to “Building Out The New Economy – An American Tradition”


  1. [...] Building Out The New Economy – An American Tradition « Climate Denial Crock of the Week [...]


  2. Did anybody ever do a final cost-benefit analysis of the Erie Canal? I’d love to see how that came out — although I’m quite certain that the cost-benefit came out highly positive. They should have kept enough records to permit some kind of economic analysis.

    • Alteredstory Says:

      I have to say, I’m highly suspicious of cost-benefit analyses of projects like that for one simple reason – they’re a snapshot. They put an artificial end on whatever is being analysed. In addition, the numbers get fuzzy when trying to calculate the impact on the whole country.

      Still, it’s clear that it’s been good for every corporation that has used it for shipping since then, so I don’t think you can claim it was anti-business…

  3. otter17 Says:

    Haha, not often that rural electrification makes it into the discussions on a cable news channel.


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