Amity Shlaes on FDR and the Depression

Rick Moran
Your in-depth reading assignment for today is this brilliant article in the Washington Post by author and economist Amity Shlaes whose book on the Great Depression overturned some long standing myths about the New Deal and Roosevelt's leadership.

A sample:

Roosevelt, too, proceeded boldly on infrastructure. The budget of his Public Works Administration was so large that it shocked even the man who ran it, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Sounding a bit like Republicans today, Ickes said of his $3.3 billion allowance: "It helped me to estimate its size by figuring that if we had it all in currency and should load it into trucks, we could set out with it from Washington for the Pacific Coast, shovel off one million dollars at every milepost and still have enough left to build a fleet of battleships."

New Deal public-works spending did have a short-term effect, creating jobs and economic activity during Roosevelt's first term. Americans took heart at the sight of schools, swimming pools and auditoriums rising in nearly every county in the country. FDR so pumped up the federal government that 1936 was the first peacetime year when it spent more than states and towns. A master of timing, he even managed to get unemployment down to a low of 13.9 percent in November of that year, the month of the presidential election. The voters rewarded him by giving him 46 of 48 states.

But many of the jobs that the early New Deal produced were not merely temporary but also limited in economic value. It was in these years that the political term "boondoggle," to describe costly make-work, was coined. It came from "boondoggling," the word for leather craft projects subsidized by New Deal work-relief programs. As was the case for the Troeller brothers, work-relief earnings were usually not sufficient to offset other Depression losses.

After the 1936 election, Roosevelt found himself appalled at the budgetary deficit he had run up and turned frugal. Infrastructure spending slowed. Monetary authorities feared inflation and doubled reserve requirements at banks. The "Depression within the Depression" of the Troellers' time began. This cynical cycle -- spend on construction, hold election, tighten, confront new joblessness -- is familiar nowadays, especially in Latin America. But then, to Americans, it came as a bitter surprise.

It just goes to show that Democrats have not learned the lessons of history and that repeating the mistakes made during the 1930's will do little except saddle us with a staggering amount of debt that will eventually drive up inflation and interest rates.

Read the whole thing.



Hat Tip: Ed Lasky
Your in-depth reading assignment for today is this brilliant article in the Washington Post by author and economist Amity Shlaes whose book on the Great Depression overturned some long standing myths about the New Deal and Roosevelt's leadership.

A sample:

Roosevelt, too, proceeded boldly on infrastructure. The budget of his Public Works Administration was so large that it shocked even the man who ran it, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Sounding a bit like Republicans today, Ickes said of his $3.3 billion allowance: "It helped me to estimate its size by figuring that if we had it all in currency and should load it into trucks, we could set out with it from Washington for the Pacific Coast, shovel off one million dollars at every milepost and still have enough left to build a fleet of battleships."

New Deal public-works spending did have a short-term effect, creating jobs and economic activity during Roosevelt's first term. Americans took heart at the sight of schools, swimming pools and auditoriums rising in nearly every county in the country. FDR so pumped up the federal government that 1936 was the first peacetime year when it spent more than states and towns. A master of timing, he even managed to get unemployment down to a low of 13.9 percent in November of that year, the month of the presidential election. The voters rewarded him by giving him 46 of 48 states.

But many of the jobs that the early New Deal produced were not merely temporary but also limited in economic value. It was in these years that the political term "boondoggle," to describe costly make-work, was coined. It came from "boondoggling," the word for leather craft projects subsidized by New Deal work-relief programs. As was the case for the Troeller brothers, work-relief earnings were usually not sufficient to offset other Depression losses.

After the 1936 election, Roosevelt found himself appalled at the budgetary deficit he had run up and turned frugal. Infrastructure spending slowed. Monetary authorities feared inflation and doubled reserve requirements at banks. The "Depression within the Depression" of the Troellers' time began. This cynical cycle -- spend on construction, hold election, tighten, confront new joblessness -- is familiar nowadays, especially in Latin America. But then, to Americans, it came as a bitter surprise.

It just goes to show that Democrats have not learned the lessons of history and that repeating the mistakes made during the 1930's will do little except saddle us with a staggering amount of debt that will eventually drive up inflation and interest rates.

Read the whole thing.



Hat Tip: Ed Lasky