“There are some lucky persons who succeed in everything, and there are some lucky nations with whom everything turns out well, even those events which seemed about to bury them in ruins. The United States is one of these privileged communities…It may be checked in its career for a time by the present crisis, but it will come out of it safe and sound, and more healthy than when it entered it.”

Quick - which Frenchman said this?

I wish I could tell you it was President Nicholas Sarkozy, who is visiting Washington today for talks with President Obama. A public vote of confidence in the US from a close ally like this would be most welcome, given the continuing discouraging economic headlines.

Actually, it was Michel Chevalier, a French engineer and travel writer, in his 1834 book Society, Manners and Politics in the United States (translated into English in 1839). The “present crisis” Chevalier refers to the unfolding battle between President Andrew Jackson and the patriotic financier Nicholas Biddle over the Second Bank of the United States, and the upheavals caused by the resulting economic uncertainty.

Chevalier linked his confidence in the US’ future to what he saw as the unparalleled genius of Americans for using loans and financial credits in the most economically productive ways possible.

His letters about America (which read very well) paint a picture of a society in motion, with small investors as well as wealthy businessmen constantly identifying how to use credit to support more efficient ways to manufacture goods, to produce food, to transport goods to market via new infrastructure like canals, etc.

Despite what he wrote about America as one of the “lucky nations” of history, Chevalier knew it was not only because of luck that the US had become the envy of old Europe.

Rather, it was the enormously productive basis of the US economy that Chevalier realized would allow the US to emerge “safe and sound” and “more healthy” from even a serious recession.

(Contrast that with the last couple of years, with all the bailouts of so many Wall Street financial firms that, for all their wealth, merely churn financial instruments of dubious value without adding much to the productive basis of the US economy.)

As reported in the Examiner, Chevalier’s countryman, Nicholas Sarkozy, is in Washington today to talk with President Obama. The two Presidents will discuss  the global economic slowdown and how Europe and America can work together to speed up the creation of jobs, to increase trade, etc.

It’s customary for elected officials to exchange gifts during their meetings. Perhaps President Sarkozy, or someone in his entourage, brought President Obama a copy of Chevalier’s Society, Manners and Politics in the United States.

For the US to emerge “safe and sound” from its current difficulties, its current leadership needs to rediscover how the country’s productive orientation helped it overcome previous periods of economic hardship. A copy of Chevalier’s book on President Obama’s desk would thus be a most welcome development.