Since its founding, especially before the late nineteenth-century closing of its frontier, the United States has been a laboratory for the creation and application of theories of economic development. A salient tradition in American economic thought has held, first, that Americans are characterized by their ingenuity; second, that a nation of such people, with such abundant land and separated from the institutions and antagonisms of Europe, needs a different system of economic ideas for understanding its development prospects; third, that any apt system of ideas must spotlight the role of ideas in development. Economic thinkers including Alexander Hamilton, Henry Charles Carey, and Henry George shared these notions, although to varying degrees and with various implications. When economists of the present day turn to history to understand the role of invention and adaptation in economic development, they invite our getting reacquainted with that tradition.

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