Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Footprints of the New Deal
O CAPTAIN.... There's no idea so dumb and feckless that it won't be tried again, no matter how many times it has failed in the past. I'm tempted to stop there because it says all that this post can possibly say, no matter how long it goes on. But. I have to go on, because everything old is new again, and I'm old enough to know that the mass media adulation of a fool president has happened before and that that adulation was so deep and successful in PR terms that it bodes ill for what we're about to endure.
Having given away the whole point of the post in my lede, I will tantalize you to read more by telling you that my ancestral memory goes all the way back to the first messiah of the twentieth century, with personal recollections of what that time was really like. Further, I promise to be as amusing as possible in (re)acquainting you youngsters with the New Deal as it was portrayed by the MSM of the time and what it was in reality. I'm going to close on a nearly impossible thing: asking you to sit through a ten minute interview with an author who wrote a book about the economic facts of the New Deal, which couldn't be any more at odds with our new president's characterization of its mythological salvational power:
Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. Now, you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And, in fact, there are several who’ve suggested that FDR [President Roosevelt] was wrong to interfere back in the New Deal. They’re fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.
Have I made the challenge difficult enough? Then I'll up the ante by telling you that I think we, as Americans, are equal to this challenge. We can come through this impossible post with our heads held high and our confidence in the future undiminished.
Let's begin with the fun stuff. The biggest thing the FDR administration had in common with the Obama administration was the worshipful attitude of the MSM and Hollywood. For example, everyone who listens to NPR will love this bouquet to the WPA:
In a loving mood yet, are we? All those actors, acting for FDR. There's more.
The biggest initiative Roosevelt launched in his first term was the largest intrusion by the government into the free marketplace in the history of the United States. The description accompanying a YouTube video since withdrawn provides a good overview of its scope:
The centerpiece of early New Deal legislation was the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933... Under this legislation, businesses were placed into cartel-like structures, seen as instruments of economic planning. Codes of good conduct were to guide business operations. The codes included a general right to collective bargaining that were later formalized in the Wagner Act of 1935. Cooperating firms could display the "Blue Eagle." This video clip from a Hollywood musical makes the message clear to audiences of the time: flag-Roosevelt-eagle.Here's how the newsreels treated the most radical big government reform FDR attempted in his four terms:
Initially, of course, the NRA was fantastically popular. Everyone was for it. And it was launched with lavish claims about what it would mean for labor, and unions, and average working people. Government was finally going to set things right for "working people." (You know the drill.) The thing was, the NRA was a gigantic turkey. It didn't bring about national recovery. Instead, its massive bureaucracy crushed small businessmen -- the ones who create most of the jobs -- under the heavy foot of the federal government in a way that even the FDR-adoring press (eventually) had to acknowledge: And, finally, the federal government had to retreat and confess the failure.
The real distinguishing characteristic of the New Deal was not economic science but economic experimentation. FDR had a free hand in his first term and he was willing to try anything that sounded good to voters. Most of his programs got favorable press coverage, including the WPA (and its partner the PWA), the CCC, and the AAA. They poured money into the economy through channels that looked as if they were helping the common man, but somehow the overall economy -- staggering under a burden of federal debt securities that was competing for investment dollars with the private sector -- never actually got better. The NRA was struck down by the Supreme Court and then so was the AAA, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (for which there's no available glowing YouTube video, but only this arid Wikipedia entry):
Large farms benefited from the AAA policy of reducing surpluses, having "gross farm income increase by 50% during the first three years of the New Deal" This was achieved because large landowners would evict tenant farmers and sharecroppers in order to keep them from farming their leased acreage; the landowner would then receive the payment for not farming the land. Furthermore, those same land owners, having forced out some of the competition, would then use those displaced farmers as cheap farm labor.
The increase in gross income for farmers was largely paid for through government subsidies. Despite the reduced production, food price increases between 1933 and 1937 were negligible. Consumers bore the brunt of higher food prices and were "horrified with its policy of enforced scarcity. A Gallup Poll printed in The Washington Post revealed that a majority of the American public opposed the AAA.
The Supreme Court ultimately said no. That's when FDR decided that the constitution was standing in his way and attempted to expand the size of the Supreme Court, so that he could appoint jurists who would approve his messianic plans to save the American capitalist system from itself. Interestingly, YouTube also contains no contemporaneous video coverage of this landmark assault on the constitution. Despite the fact that it marks the end of FDR's real influence with congress, the only video now available is a recent (and oddly cheerful) AP history retrospective that ends 1:30 into the following clip:
Does all this sound a little less 'hope and changey' than you might have expected from the greatest president in the twentieth century? It's certainly not what you were taught about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the savior of the capitalist system in America.
Well. I can assure you it's not true that everyone loved him. For once CP and I agree on something. His recollections are identical. CP's grandfather took care of five families throughout the Great Depression, providing employment where there was none to black families in his hometown. Yet he had to endure the humiliation of having his annual salary published in the local newspaper via an edict from the president of the United States. You see, he was making an obscene amount of money at the time, $15,000 or more. It was important that the common man know who the thieving capitalist enemy was. When CP's mother heard of FDR's death in 1944, she telephoned this estimable man and said, "FDR is dead. What happens now?" She'd never known another president since the age of ten. He replied simply, "Thank God, at last."
My own recollections are even darker. This man was my father. I knew him later, of course, when he was only remembering a president who had tried to turn the country against him and his family for his entire childhood and youth. I grew up hearing claims I never heard confirmed by the mainstream media, that FDR was a failure, that he deepened the Depression, that he was willing to do absolutely anything to get reelected, that he was the worst president the country ever had. And I came, in time, to know this about my father:
He flew in FDR's funeral, 750 ft below the ordered 1,000-ft altitude, to protest the deaths of multiple friends who died in the fog during the spurious NY Harbor submarine scare that helped get Roosevelt reelected in 1944. While JFK was president, he insisted, with absolutely no evidence, that the man was a callow, drug-addicted, philandering hypocrite, bought into office by his Nazi-sympathizer bootlegger father, and that the whole Kennedy clan amounted to no more than the lowest of shanty Irish. He so despised LBJ that he counseled his son not to join up for the Vietnam War, "because there's no point fighting a war you're not allowed to win."
It's simply false that FDR was universally admired and that there was never any doubt his policies had rescued the American economy from the Great Depression. The truth is, there's a growing school of revisionist thought which asserts that FDR almost single-handedly kept the United States in a depression that could have been cured with a lot less government interference, no matter how much he is idolized by people who swallowed the MSM idolatry of the time. Shouldn't a president of the United States know that this would-be savior's legacy is vigorously disputed by real historians? Except that no one anywhere knows exactly what it is Obama studied in his school and college years. Here's a blog post from the day after his election:
Obama's past will now finally be put to rest -- never to be questioned or looked upon again. Hidden away by the Mainstream Media, Is there something in here he's trying to hide?
Let's see what we won’t have now going forward about President-Elect Obama. Truly a very 'mysterious' man:
1. Occidental College records -- Not released
2. Columbia College records -- Not released
3. Columbia Thesis paper -- “Not available”
4. Harvard College [sic] records -- Not released
5. Selective Service Registration -- Not released
6. Medical records -- Not released
7. Illinois State Senate schedule -- Not available
8. Your Illinois State Senate records -- Not available
9. Law practice client list -- Not released
10. Certified Copy of original Birth certificate -- Not released
11. Embossed, signed paper Certification of Live Birth -- Not released
12. Record of your baptism -- Not available
13. Copy of the video from that party with Rashid Khalidi -- Not released
Oh and one more thing Senator, I can't seem to find any articles you published as editor of the Harvard Law Review, or as a Professor at the University of Chicago. Can you explain that to me Sir?
Well, forget the explanations. There weren't any in the thirties, and there won't be any now. FDR talked a lot about the "Forgotten Man," meaning the out-of-work guy who elected Roosevelt four times. But even in FDR's day, there were souls who looked beyond his patrician populism and saw the real forgotten man he trampled in his rush to greatness:
The forgotten man... He works, he votes, generally he prays, but his chief business in life is to pay.
-- William Graham Sumner
Now. Are you ready for ten minutes of honesty about the New Deal? The title of the book is "The Forgotten Man," and its author exands on Sumner's definition as follows:
The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble; they do not understand that all the parts of society hold together and that forces which are set in action act and react throughout the whole organism until an equilibrium is produced by a readjustment of all interests and rights. They therefore ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view. They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion ? that the state cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.
Here's the ten minute interview I threatened you with earlier. I can't show it to you here (unexpectedly withdrawn) but I do have a teaser. Watch both and then enjoy the special dessert I've prepared for you.
Well done. Ready for a sweet glimpse of our shared future? Please don't smack your lips.
The new New Deal is coming soon.
Batten down the, uh, whatever you can batten down. Trust me, the earth will shake.