Lincolnomics: How President Lincoln Constructed the Great American Economy
By John F. Wasik
Diversion Books; hardcover, $31.99; available today, Tuesday, April 13th
Abraham Lincoln is always looked to as a guiding light when it comes to uniting the country, but is it possible he can be looked to when it comes to another problem that has vexed the United States, infrastructure?
In the engrossing new work, the only biography of its kind, Lincolnomics, John F. Wasik, the author of 19 books whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal, and was named a Illinois Road Scholar by the Illinois Humanities Council in 2018, explores Lincoln's foundational governing policies.
Wasik reveals that, in his addition to being The Great Emancipator, he was also The Great Builder. Lincoln's untold legacy was as the creator of an economic ladder to democracy through national transportation, public education, and access to markets.
There also is an exploration of the foundational ideas and policies on infrastructure rooted in society and government by America's sixteenth president. His view of the right to fulfill one's economic destiny was at the core of his governing philosophy, and he also knew that no one could climb the ladder without strong federal support.
"In the light of economic progress, Lincoln was much more than the Great Emancipator," Wasik writes. "As a man who cherished the kind of education he never received, he helped revolutionize college education, research, development, and infrastructure. Emerging from the wilderness shaped his thinking on how to equitably link a growing nation with the needs of commerce and industry. Not only did Lincoln view economic progress through a pragmatic lens of what would get Illinois grain, hogs, lumber, and industrial goods to Eastern - and later global - markets, he used the Declaration of Independence as its basis. Slavery, of course, was the leaden impediment to his view.
"Lincolnomics looks at Lincoln in a new light: Spiritual Economics married to the Culture of Innovation. Not only was he one of our greatest presidents on the questions of equality and fairness, he was a pragmatic progressive, seeking fresh economic solutions to level the playing field for laboring Americans. His philosophy expanded over time to embrace a radical idea for developing democracies: In order to build a more equitable future for everyone, you had to plan, invest, and build it."
Some of the policy ideas that America's sixteenth president had were developed before the Civil War, as he envisioned a country linked by railroads, running ocean to ocean, canals turning small towns into bustling cities, public works bringing farmers to market.
As with most things, Lincoln, evolved in a very defined path on infrastructure. In the 1830s, Lincoln was a young Illinois state legislator pushing for internal improvements, followed by his work a decade later as a lawyer representing the Illinois Central Railroad. As president, he fought for the Transcontinental Railroad and supported land-grant colleges that educated a nation.
Lincoln, who was also known as "The Rail Splitter," knew that infrastructure was about more than just the roads, bridges, and canals he facilitated as a lawyer and public servant. It was about lifting people out of poverty and its isolating origins. Lincoln's work paved the way for FDR's social amenities in the New Deal and Eisenhower's interstate highways.
Lincolnomics is especially relevant at this moment as President Biden is proposing one of the biggest infrastructure packages in American history, and there is also debate on what that term really means.