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How The Hamilton Project at Brookings got its name

It started with Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, first published in 2004. Then, in 2006, at an event that included then-Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Brookings launched The Hamilton Project, an initiative intended to “advance an economic strategy to restore America’s promise of opportunity, prosperity and growth.”

Now, 10 years later, The Hamilton Project continues to offer policy ideas and recommendations to “create a growing economy that benefits more Americans.” Just recently, I had the opportunity to interview the director of the project, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, about her research and the project’s work on issues related to child poverty, nutrition, and education. During the interview, for the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast, I asked her about the origin of the project’s name. Why Alexander Hamilton? Schanzenbach’s reply: 

Everyone read the book by Ron Chernow, and they were inspired by [Hamilton’s] dedication to good governance, to sound fiscal decision-making … Our think tank—its mission is to advance America’s promise of opportunity, prosperity, and growth—was aligned with how Alexander Hamilton worked. Of course he was the first Treasury Secretary … and he set as foundation a lot of the institutions that are with us today.

Our name also came from this book … and so when the founders of The Hamilton Project read it they thought it is going to inspire us to found an economic policy think tank within Brookings. And of course when Lin-Manuel Miranda read it, he thought hip-hop music.

The project’s mission statement includes a reference to Hamilton’s “Examination of Jefferson’s Message to Congress of December 7, 1801,” in which Hamilton, writing as “Lucius Crassus,” wrote of the need for “prudent aids and encouragements on the part of government” in addition to recognizing the important role and power of markets to bring economic growth. “In matters of industry,” Hamilton wrote in the 1801 letter:

human enterprise ought, doubtless, to be left free in the main; not fettered by too much regulation; but practical politicians know that it may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government. This is proved by numerous examples too tedious to be cited; examples which will be neglected only by indolent and temporizing rulers, who love to loll in the lap of epicurean ease, and seem to imagine that to govern well, is to amuse the wondering multitude with sagacious aphorisms and oracular sayings.

Visit hamiltonproject.org to get the latest research and event information from The Hamilton Project. Listen to the full interview with Schanzenbach here:

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