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Wasting Away in Hooverville
March 9, 2009 9:35 PM   Subscribe

Quit Lying About Roosevelt! "Amity Shlaes, the GOP's Great Depression philosopher-queen, couldn't be more dangerously wrong." [Via]
posted by homunculus (36 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shlaes was recently discussed here and here.
posted by homunculus at 9:39 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is interesting.

Incidentally, it occurred to me some time ago why Republicans now wish to talk about Roosevelt and to deride him: because he's more than a generation past now, so there are no raw nerves any more about his actions - he's just a distant memory now - and because he changes the subject that we've all been defining our politics by: the sixties. Thanks to the music and the culture, the sixties are still a live memory; and it's the embattled and solitary Republican who'll try to defend the Vietnam war or Richard Nixon. As time has gone on, society has just gotten more and more certain that liberalism won in the sixties; it's a breath of fresh air for Republicans to talk about the thirties instead, no matter how little they may understand it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:46 PM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


On a related note, and also from the New Republic site: Regulate, Baby, Regulate: Why the stimulus will be worthless if Obama doesn't bring transparency to Wall Street.
posted by ornate insect at 9:52 PM on March 9, 2009


DougJ at Balloon Juice linked to Conrad Black's defense of FDR in the National Review today. Of course, Black has not only written a huge, glowing biography of Roosevelt, he also wrote an equally fulsome book about Nixon. I don't know how the same man could admire two such different presidents, but I thought this comment from the Balloon Juice thread may hold a hint:
Like a lot of Canadian Tories, Black is a big admirer of FDR. By building a social safety net and putting minimal regulations on capital markets, FDR made America safe for wealthy people again.
And Black does seem to want to claim FDR for the conservatives:
Roosevelt expressed frustration to Felix Frankfurter and others that his opponents didn’t recognize that he was “the greatest friend American capitalism ever had.” He wanted to, and did, make America safe for people who lived in 40-room houses on 1,000-acre estates, as he did. He directed all the anger and frustration of the Depression into a cul-de-sac of mythological characters — economic royalists, war profiteers, monopolists, malefactors of great wealth, money changers, and speculators — and preserved the moral integrality of the nation to focus hostility on its real enemies: Nazism and Japanese imperialism. He was no bleeding heart, and he reduced welfare outlays in the summer, explaining, “No one ever dies of starvation in this country in the summer.”

It is, to say the least, unrigorous for current spokespeople of the intelligent Right to claim that Roosevelt’s peacetime elimination of unemployment was a failure, that war-mongering was his real antidote to economic depression, and that the grateful electors of the most successful politician in the country’s history were hoodwinked, as FDR would have said, “again and again and again.” Instead of trying to debunk FDR, Amity Shlaes, Holman Jenkins, and even Jim Powell should complete his liberation from leftist kidnappers and claim him for themselves. He was a reformer, and also one of the very greatest conservatives in American history.
posted by maudlin at 9:56 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


wow. awesome article.
posted by localhuman at 10:11 PM on March 9, 2009


This particular stripe of history--Roosevelt's New Deal did nothing for the country, only entering the war solved the problem--has been around for quite some time (I was taught this theory as gospel in elementary school, thanks to a wildly conservative school board).

It is this point in the article that I think is most interesting:

"Moreover, the classic right-wing critique fails to explain how the economy recovered at all. In one of his columns touting Shlaes, George Will observed that "the war, not the New Deal, defeated the Depression." Why, though, did the war defeat the Depression? Because it entailed a massive expansion of government spending. The Republicans who have been endlessly making the anti-stimulus case seem not to realize that, if you believe that the war ended the Depression, then you are a Keynesian."
posted by librarylis at 10:23 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Paul Krugman Schools George Will On The Great Depression
posted by homunculus at 10:56 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Krugman's latest: Behind the Curve
posted by homunculus at 10:58 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how conservatives only seem to want to balance the budget when they don't have the presidency.
posted by Caduceus at 11:18 PM on March 9, 2009 [16 favorites]


librarylis, I was about to re-post the exact paragraph, but along with these other excerpts:

FDR came into office promising to slash the federal budget, but he moved in fits and starts toward a Keynesian policy of fiscal stimulus. After the elections of 1936, though, his more conservative advisors prevailed upon him to roll back the budget. Liberals, including Keynes, protested that this would jeopardize the fragile recovery. And events vindicated them: after impressive growth, the economy plunged back into a recession within a depression.

When liberals suggest that Obama follow Roosevelt's model, they do not mean that he should replicate the entire thing. (The way, say, conservatives do when they suggest following Reagan's model.) They mean that he should emulate the Keynesian fiscal policies and other parts of the New Deal that worked. Shlaes has set out to demolish an argument that no serious person has ever made.

Its a good read. Thank you for posting it.
posted by kisch mokusch at 11:24 PM on March 9, 2009


Eric Rauchway at the Edge of the American West has been on the Shlaes case for a while, with posts tagged "new deal denialist truth-squadding" (though they include not just Shlaesiana, as that archive page will attest).
posted by kenko at 11:27 PM on March 9, 2009


Whenever people inform me that, "It wasn't the New Deal, it was the War that ended the depression." I tell them, "It wasn't the War, it was the centrally managed economy that was needed to win it."
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:37 PM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


This seems like a good article.

However, it is possible to make a more coherent conservative argument against the New Deal: that the successes were due to the monetary aspects like the end of the gold standard, and that aspects like minimum wages were counterproductive.

Moderate Republicans could still make those arguments, if they ever tunnel out of whatever cellars they've been imprisoned in.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:28 AM on March 10, 2009


Moderate Republicans could still make those arguments, if they ever tunnel out of whatever cellars they've been imprisoned themselves in.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:45 AM on March 10, 2009


Good points. I'm glad someone mentioned Krugman's point about cons trying to say it was WWII, and not the New Deal, that ended the Great Depression.

Obviously it was a combination of both things, but Republicans have a strange habit of thinking that wars don't cost anything. Even Bush II was too much of a coward to put the Iraq budget into the annual budget -- we got these bullshit games with "supplementals," like invading and occupying a country on the other side of the globe was equivalent to ordering an extra side of blue cheese for your wings for 50 cents or something.

WWII entailed massive government wealth redistribution of the highest order. The top tax bracket was paying 90% of their income into Federal coffers, another thing cons never mention. And hey, after that, how about the GI Bill that sent people like my grandfather and dad to college from poor families? A Federal subsidy for anyone to attend school and get a BA, MA, or PHD, everything paid in full.

I'm skeptical about arguing these things with cons any more. Most of them are intellectually incapable of having the debate. The small percentage of them who can articulate the relationship between, say, the CCC (a de facto officer training corps for WWII during the 1930's), the WPA, FDR's financial policies, and the complexities of WWII are too disingenuous to admit that they're not interested in authentic debate, but just pushing the latest talking point from Rush or Kristol.

Oh, and women coming into the work-force in the millions during the 1940's when the men went off to fight. That's another thing non-reality based Republicans have a hard time dealing with, if they even try any longer.
posted by bardic at 4:21 AM on March 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


When liberals suggest that Obama follow Roosevelt's model, they do not mean that he should replicate the entire thing. (The way, say, conservatives do when they suggest following Reagan's model.)

That gives conservatives too much credit. Reagan raised taxes out of concern for the deficit, signed a law liberalizing abortion restrictions as governor, and sat down for talks with the leader of the Evil Empire.

The caricature that conservatives revere is much, much less sophisticated and intelligent than the actual Reagan.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:27 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reagan's first political hero was also, ahem, FDR.

And to possibly be the only person to say nice things about Nixon in this thread, he created the EPA and he went to China to talk to people perceived as mortal enemies at the time. Maybe it wasn't perfect, but at least it was reality-based, adult diplomacy, not HURF DURF U R EVIL LOL, the shining legacy of Bush II's diplomatic capabilities.

I forgot Poland.
posted by bardic at 4:56 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Whenever people inform me that, "It wasn't the New Deal, it was the War that ended the depression." I tell them, "It wasn't the War, it was the centrally managed economy that was needed to win it."

Similarly, I always reply, "right, when the war came the Republicans could no longer block the Democratic social programs and the whole country was unified and mobilized for social change."
posted by Pollomacho at 4:59 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


God, that Shlaes book was such a disaster. My fiancee got it for me, remembering that I had wanted a Depression history for Christmas, preferably by someone with a background in economics, but not realizing that she should have gotten one written by someone whose exposure to history consists of more than listening to GWB/Cheney and reading one or two chapters of The Power Broker.

(Don't get me wrong, Power Broker is terrific, but if you only read one or two chapters you might get the idea that history is best told by anecdote (which is what Shlaes seems to believe) rather than the densely interwoven mesh of fact, data, and occasional anecdote that constitute Power Broker.)
posted by louie at 5:05 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


On reading through the Chait piece, this really jumps out:

Now here is the extremely strange thing about The Forgotten Man: it does not really argue that the New Deal failed. In fact, Shlaes does not make any actual argument at all, though she does venture some bold claims, which she both fails to substantiate and contradicts elsewhere. Reviewing her book in The New York Times, David Leonhardt noted that Shlaes makes her arguments "mostly by implication." This is putting it kindly. Shlaes introduces the book by asserting her thesis, but she barely even tries to demonstrate it. Instead she chooses to fill nearly four hundred pages with stories that mostly go nowhere. The experience of reading The Forgotten Man is more like talking to an old person who lived through the Depression than it is like reading an actual history of the Depression.

That captures the experience of reading the book perfectly. Having read that, you're done; no need to pick up the actual book.
posted by louie at 5:16 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the things that the conservatives are missing are the social and psychological positives of the New Deal. Even if it hadn't worked at all in the economic realm (which is itself an absurd thought), it brought a renewed confidence to many Americans that things could get better and that government could look after them. It provided hope to the hopeless and showed that the democratic system could weather the storm. All of that is just as important as economic figures aligned in a column, but everyone seems to overlook it.
posted by boubelium at 5:24 AM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


The right-wing re-writing of history continues apace, I see - The "WWII ended the Depression" myth is pretty mild stuff compared to "Hitler was a socialist" (Yes, the Nazis were socialist - in exactly the same way the People's Democratic Republic of North Korea is a democratic republic) and "the founding fathers meant the US to be a christian state."

The only people who are really fooled by it are those who are already Conservative republicans, the same ones who are talking about the Obama Recession... it's pretty entertaining to watch them re-write history in real-time.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:34 AM on March 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


it's pretty entertaining to watch them re-write history in real-time

More criminal than entertaining, I think.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:47 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Moreover, the classic right-wing critique fails to explain how the economy recovered at all.

Sure it does: Naturally, the same way the economy recovered in 1920 - except that under the New Deal the recovery took a decade whereas in the presence of government expenditure cuts and tax cuts it took a year.

Of course, the problem is more complex than a sentence (or a textbook) of data makes it look, but that applies to the left-wing question as much as the right-wing answer. If your attitude is "How do you explain economic recovery without pointing to a specific government action?", you've already assumed what you're purporting to prove!
posted by roystgnr at 6:27 AM on March 10, 2009


roystgnr, care to elaborate on that "naturally" thing?

My problem with the "lower taxes, smaller government" crowd is that it's usually a mantra with little to back it up, or it becomes the exact opposite in effect, like when Reagan increased government spending and the deficit.

So this is your chance to change my mind.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:16 AM on March 10, 2009


This particular stripe of history--Roosevelt's New Deal did nothing for the country, only entering the war solved the problem--has been around for quite some time (I was taught this theory as gospel in elementary school, thanks to a wildly conservative school board).

The cognitive dissonance of this theory is mind-boggling. You see, government spending didn't get us out of the Great Depression. Even greater government spending on soldiers' salaries and weapon systems did.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:40 AM on March 10, 2009


The experience of reading The Forgotten Man is more like talking to an old person who lived through the Depression than it is like reading an actual history of the Depression.

Back in my day, we read revisionist, ideologically warped "histories" of the Great Depression and we liked it. It was all we had.
posted by brundlefly at 7:50 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good points. I'm glad someone mentioned Krugman's point about cons trying to say it was WWII, and not the New Deal, that ended the Great Depression.

I agree. The stimulative effect of World War II on the economy would have been the same if Hitler dropped dead of a heart attack, the war was over before it began, and we dumped all the tanks and planes we made into the sea. In fact, defense spending is typically the least stimulative of all forms of government spending, because either the goods produced will be destroyed in the normal course of events (you can't preserve "inventory" when you're using tanks and planes to fight wars) or the goods have no application in the civilian economy. By contrast, the non-defense spending of the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Adminstration has produced roads, bridges, and buildings that many people are still using 70 years later.
posted by jonp72 at 7:55 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good points. I'm glad someone mentioned Krugman's point about cons trying to say it was WWII, and not the New Deal, that ended the Great Depression.

Another point is that this argument seems to based more in cultural conservatism than in sound economics. Government spending on the military is good because it puts starch in the spine, but government spending on a bridge or a hospital is bad because it's namby-pamby and decadent. Never mind that non-defense spending typically produces more jobs than defense spending, because defense spending typically requires spending on expensive technologies with next to no civilian applicaitons.
posted by jonp72 at 7:58 AM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Naturally, the same way the economy recovered in 1920 - except that under the New Deal the recovery took a decade whereas in the presence of government expenditure cuts and tax cuts it took a year.

Actually, Eric Rauchway's "New Deal denialist truth squad" blog has a good debunking of a similar argument by Ron Paul about the 1920-21 recession. According to Rauchway, the government was interventionist in response to the 1920-21 recession, because it both restricted immigration and it enacted protectionist measures against foreign trade. When Hoover was faced with a similar recession in 1930, he enacted similar restrictions against immigration and foreign trade, but they didn't work.

Another important historical context not mentioned by Rauchway is that 1920 was only two years after the end of World War I. Most of the major economic competitors of the United States were still recovering from major economic losses inflicted during the world war, but the United States emerged from the war with barely a scratch. This context would not have applied in 1930.
posted by jonp72 at 8:09 AM on March 10, 2009


A short guide to Obama and socialism
posted by homunculus at 10:28 AM on March 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Paul Krugman to the rescue: Paradox of thrift
posted by homunculus at 4:12 PM on March 10, 2009


Naturally, the same way the economy recovered in 1920 - except that under the New Deal the recovery took a decade whereas in the presence of government expenditure cuts and tax cuts it took a year.

Really? A year you say? That's funny, because a very conservative Republican was in power for the first THREE years of the Depression. So much for your theory.

You don't suppose the difference in length had more to do with the severity of the depression, now do you? Nah, couldn't be. I'm sure you're right that 1920 and 1929 were the same except for who was in charge. Let's see, lefty Woodrow Wilson in 1920, and righty Herbert Hoover in 1929...

As for your strawman who asks the silly question about "a specific government action," you know perfectly well that the question is what events correlated with the (notably odd) timing of the improvement, not what "government actions". It just happens that a change in government and a wartime surge in government spending are the two most obvious events that correlate neatly with key points on that curve. The thing about government is a conclusion from the data, not an assumption.
posted by Xezlec at 9:16 PM on March 10, 2009


Back in the Hoover Depression, mother had to drop out of high school and go to work in the mills. There was no work for her father, but the mills could hire 17-year-old girls at lower wages than they paid men, so she had to drop out a couple of months before graduation to become the wage earner.

(Fortunately, liberalism has since won THAT battle, too. But I digress.)

My parents knew people whose lives had LITERALLY been saved by FDR and the New Deal. They knew guys who had to go out and ride the rails in search of work and, yes, food. They knew a guy who had to join the army on his 18th birthday because there was nothing to eat at home. Another guy had to move out of his mother's house on his 18th birthday and go sleep in a tent - because his family couldn't get relief if there was an able-bodied adult man under the roof. The Democrats under FDR saved people's lives.

It makes me incandescent with rage to hear the members of the party of Harding, Hoover, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush now spreading lies about FDR.

My mother was forced to drop out of high school. Unlike Shlaes, my mother never got a chance to go to Yale so that she could then write lies about the New Deal.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:04 PM on March 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


New Deal critic Amity Shlaes compares the president's healthcare plan to "The Matrix." This must be Plan B now that the socialism tag hasn't stuck
posted by homunculus at 2:08 PM on March 11, 2009


"Neo" Conservative Talking Point: The Obama Administration Is ... The Matrix

ZOMBIE LIES THAT WILL NOT DIE
posted by homunculus at 1:20 PM on March 12, 2009


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