Skip to comments.FDR and the Depression: A New Round (Conrad Black Insists He DID get us out of it)
Posted on 07/30/2010 10:01:07 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Before my spirited exchange with my esteemed friend Amity Shlaes about the New Deal reaches the point of diminishing returns, it should be possible to agree on some points that may be applicable to current economic questions.
I think we agree that Obamanomics has not succeeded, beyond a tentative stabilization, easily shaken by lack of public confidence in the regime and the absence of any serious deficit-reduction plan. We seem also to agree that unfocused fiscal profligacy on the scale of the $800 billion stimulus bill has not led to significant reductions in unemployment, that more of the same will not succeed any better, and that the ability of the federal government to keep hurling money out of the airplane on that scale has probably passed anyway.
Where we agree in interpreting the economic experience of the Thirties is that U.S. unemployment on Inauguration Day 1933 was between 25 and 33 percent; that it was between 12 and 16 percent in late 1934, and between 9.8 and 14.2 percent just before the 1940 election; and that unemployment was effectively eliminated in the U.S. before Americas entry into World War II in December 1941.
Beyond this, we seem to part company, as on that record, I do not see how Amity could write, as she did last week on NRO, that Roosevelt did fail to end the Depression. She applies the criterion of getting back to where we were before. When Roosevelt died in office in April 1945, after more than 12 years as president, U.S. GDP had more than doubled from 1933, and was half the economic product of the entire war-ravaged world.
Amity acknowledges that within a year of taking office, Roosevelt could claim that more than 60 percent of the unemployed were gainfully employed, albeit about 60 percent of the reduction was in the giant New Deal workfare infrastructure and conservation programs. Yet she describes this as an Obamaesque argument. I dont think so, as these were real jobs, and after $1.4 trillion of deficit spending, President Obama is reduced to implausible arguments about saving jobs that would otherwise have been lost, rather than creating new ones.
Where I hope we do agree is that this administration to engage the unemployed until the private sector could absorb them should have emulated Roosevelts workfare programs at much less cost and to much greater benefit to the nation than the Santas bag of toys of the stimulus bill. There is going to be an extended process, as the economy reorients itself from consumption (especially of foreign oil and luxury goods) to more saving and investment, manufacturing and extractive industry. It was naïve to imagine that the overladen Christmas tree of stimulus could achieve much of what was needed.
Now, since the firehose of unaimed spending is running dry, the best alternatives are New Deal workfare, coupled with income-tax reductions and increases in taxes on gasoline, luxury-goods sales, and financial transactions, but apart from a few words from Paul Volcker, there is no sign of this.
Three points of disagreement seem to remain: Amity declares, as do most historians, that only the official numbers of employed can be counted, but I think the New Deals workfare participants were just as much employed people as the military conscripts and defense-production hires of other advanced countries in the Thirties, who are traditionally considered to be employed, while the New Deal relief workers are not. I do not accept, and neither should any other historian, unemployment figures that treat fully employed relief workers, in far more useful work than the cogs of bloated pre-war defense preparedness, as statistical unemployment.
Second, on the matter of the possible precedent of 193738, I dont believe that it furnishes any guidance at all for the current conditions. In 1937, Roosevelt rolled back his public-works programs and shrank the deficit at the request of the hard-money elements of his administration and the Congress. Economic conditions began to deteriorate and he restored the upward trajectory of the business and employment cycle with another massive levee of workfare. This has nothing to do with the current administrations argument for doubling down on its rather unimpressive pursuit of stimulus, which is a bogus concept, as it immobilizes as much stimulus through borrowing as it creates, and is only secondarily productive of jobs. Roosevelts 193738 pause followed and preceded huge reductions in unemployment.
Third and finally, we seem to part company over the extreme distress that Roosevelt found on entering office. When the proverbial one-third of a nation had no visible means of support and the banking system had collapsed, there was little empirical evidence of how best to deal with a severe economic depression, and no time for sequential experimentation. I must call Amity on her claim that Roosevelt was viscerally anti-business. He did object to what he considered an unacceptably uneven prosperity in the Twenties, and excessive and imprudent borrowing in the financial markets coming into the crash. He also resented what he considered business ingratitude for his rescue of the capitalist system with only modest concessions to the forces of egalitarianism.
It was naughty of Amity to claim that Roosevelt said, of the business community, on Oct. 31, 1936, at Madison Square Garden, in one of his most famous political addresses: I welcome their hatred. He had already appreciatively referred in that address to the vast majority of law-abiding businessmen. Those whose opprobrium he professed to welcome were the confected bogeymen of business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, and war profiteering. He thus channeled the anger and frustration of the time into a harmless cul-de-sac of fictitious enemies.
I withdraw previous claims that Amity Shlaes is a member of the Roosevelt assassination squads that compulsively attack FDR at any opportunity, no matter how obscure. But I think she made a mistake in assimilating his economic policies to Hoovers in her otherwise excellent book about the Great Depression, shortchanges FDR for the economic progress he made in each of his full terms, and imputes unjustly base motivations to him (though he was far from a political saint). As a result, Amity is being used as a stalking horse by ahistorical kooks who swaddle themselves in her well-earned reputation as a rigorous historian and commentator, to assault the imperishable Roosevelt piñata.
Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Horse crap. They were/are using the same blame Bush propaganda line as they now using only it was and still is blame Hoover for FDR’s dismal performance and schemes.
Sure, what we need are higher gas taxes! /S
“FDR’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, wrote in his diary: “We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. We have never made good on our promises. I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started and an enormous debt to boot!”
The unemployment figures for FDR’s first eight years were: 18 percent in 1935; 14 percent in 1936; by 1938, unemployment was back to 20 percent. The stock market fell nearly 50 percent between August 1937 and March 1938. Columnist Walter Lippmann wrote, “With almost no important exception every measure he (Roosevelt) has been interested in for the past five months has been to reduce or discourage the production of wealth.” The last year of the Herbert Hoover administration, the top marginal income tax rate was raised from 24 to 63 percent. During the Roosevelt administration, the top rate was raised at first to 79 percent and then later to 90 percent. Hillsdale College economic historian Professor Burton Folsom notes that in 1941, Roosevelt even proposed a whopping 99.5 percent marginal rate on all incomes over $100,000. Much more of the Hoover/FDR fiasco can be found in “Great Myths of the Great Depression” ( HYPERLINK “http://fee.org/articles/great-myths-of-the-great-depression/" \t “_blank” http://fee.org/articles/great-myths-of-the-great-depression/). “
How Government Prolonged the Depression
FDR’s Treasury secretary Henry Morganthau in May 1939:
“We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong ... somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises ... I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started ... And an enormous debt to boot!”
PARTICULARLY a liberal writer who wrote a book titled: Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom
I guess the "Champion of Freedom" isn't the same guy who interned more than 100,000 American citizens on the basis of their ancestry.
Thanks for the links!
Roosevelt / Depression bump for later.........
It get`s better. Harvard surprised itself, got an empirical answer it really did not want to see, that stimulus plans hurt and fail :
Recent research at Harvard Business School began with the premise that as a states congressional delegation grew in stature and power in Washington, D.C., local businesses would benefit from the increased federal spending sure to come their way.
It turned out quite the opposite. In fact, professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval, and Christopher Malloy discovered to their surprise that companies experienced lower sales and retrenched by cutting payroll, R&D, and other expenses. Indeed, in the years that followed a congressmans ascendancy to the chairmanship of a powerful committee, the average firm in his state cut back capital expenditures by roughly 15 percent, according to their working paper, Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?
It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairmans state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending, Coval reports.
A.Some of the (Govt.) dollars directly supplant private-sector activitythey literally undertake projects the private sector was planning to do on its own. The Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 is perhaps the most famous example of this.Other dollars appear to indirectly crowd out private firms by hiring away employees and the like
Q: These findings present something of a dilemma for public policymakers who believe that federal spending can stimulate private economic development. How would you suggest they approach the problem that federal dollars may actually cause private-sector retrenchment?
A: Our findings suggest that they should revisit their belief that federal spending can stimulate private economic development...
And that, FDR did not do until war production started.
“And that, FDR did not do until war production started.”
I heard that whatever restrictions FDR put on the private sector were lifted, once war production started, and this is why Gov’t spending (war spending) actually got us out when the New Deal didn’t.