Saturday, October 1, 2016

Treasury Secretary compared to Melville's "confidence man" in 1905

Leslie Shaw, Bain photo portrait
L. M. Shaw
Photo by George Grantham Bain via Wikimedia Commons
One New York journalist in 1905 still remembered Melville's man in gray. From the New York Evening Post, May 27, 1905:
Secretary Shaw's alleged statement that the nation could build the Isthmian Canal every year without feeling the additional taxes, displays a characteristically jaunty conception of national finance. It reminds one, in fact, of a whimsical fancy of the late Hermann Melville who makes his "confidence man" undertake the evangelization of the world in a year or so by simply collecting a per capita subscription of a dollar from all Christendom. In this fashion the job was to be done quickly, and once for all. Through some such reasoning Secretary Shaw is able to convince himself that a matter of a hundred million more or less is only a dollar or so per citizen, and hence negligible. By the same process of ratiocination he is able to prove that it's all one whether the Government lays down rails at Panama at twenty dollars a ton or at twenty-eight. Between friends, such a difference is too small to mention....
As proposed in the seventh chapter of The Confidence-Man, the World's Charity scheme required only a dollar a head to implement. Worldwide evangelizing would be financed by the World's Charity and operated as another commercial market, by contract: "Missions I would quicken with the Wall street spirit."

"Secretary Shaw" is Leslie Mortier Shaw, United States Secretary of the Treasury under Theodore Roosevelt, 1902-1907.
"The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of four hundred years and of more than twenty years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished." --David McCullough on the Panama Canal in The Path Between the Seas (Simon & Schuster, 1978) pages 613-614.

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