Washington Irving’s take on the economy

Washington Irving, “The Devil and Tom Walker,” 1824

Everybody remembers the time
of Governor Belcher, when money was particularly scarce. It was a time
of paper credit. The country had been deluged with government bills;
the famous Land Bank had been established; there had been a rage for
speculating; the people had run mad with schemes for new settlements,
for building cities in the wilderness; land-jobbers went about with
maps of grants and townships and Eldorados, lying nobody knew where,
but which everybody was ready to purchase. In a word, the great
speculating fever which breaks out every now and then in the country
had raged to an alarming degree, and everybody was dreaming of making
sudden fortunes from nothing. As usual, the fever had subsided, the
dream had gone off, and the imaginary fortunes with it; the patients
were left in doleful plight, and the whole country resounded with the
consequent cry of “hard times.”

At this propitious time of public distress did Tom Walker set up as
usurer in Boston. His door was soon thronged by customers. The needy
and adventurous, the gambling speculator, the dreaming land-jobber,
the thriftless tradesman, the merchant with cracked credit--in short,
everyone driven to raise money by desperate means and desperate
sacrifices hurried to Tom Walker.

Thus Tom was the universal friend to the needy, and acted like "a
friend in need"; that is to say, he always exacted good pay and
security. In proportion to the distress of the applicant was the
hardness of his terms. He accumulated bonds and mortgages, gradually
squeezed his customers closer and closer, and sent them at length, dry
as a sponge, from his door.

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