The third president of the United States may have preferred an agrarian economy. He may not have waxed eloquent on modern economic theories. However, he helped lay the foundation for our exalted economic status in the world. He can still contribute to the financial conversation.

Jefferson believed in a non-intrusive Federal government. That we have made government intrusion into the economic sector an almost daily occurrence would probably have frightened Jefferson. It’s definitely not the government he knew.

Whatever happens with the latest turn of the market, this entire situation highlights a difficult truth about 21st century Washington: the populace expects the Federal government to “fix” the economy. This demand would have been highly questionable to Jefferson. Consider how he might have reacted to the Feds reaching into the private financial sector…

“I own that I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.“

It’s hard to doubt the energies of Barack Obama. Like Bush before him, Obama is busily expanding government oversight of what should be private economic affairs. Why? He desires an economic environment where prosperity is possible. Unfortunately, active government management usually degenerates into something worse than the original intention. It already has for GM. Jefferson would disapprove.

Or another…

“A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.”

And this similar one…

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

The government helps no one by bailing out failed institutions. Sure a job may be saved today. However, the practical losses extend to future generations. When we prop up companies like GM and Citi, our government is taking on debts that will be repaid with inflation or worse. The only people who get a pass are the golden parachute execs – not the lowly worker with a 401k.

I am under no illusion that circumstances today are the same as 1776. We are separated from Jefferson’s presidency by two centuries and much economic development. But to discount Jefferson’s influence on our economic success would be foolhardy. He helped found our great republic and the economy that eventually flourished on our continent. He may be a popular President to admire, but his words ring hollow in our land today.