In response to Laura Perrins: Thursday’s reading list: God’s kingdom, expanding the economy and women in science, Owen Morgan wrote:
A lot more people should be reading Amity Shlaes. Continued belief in the effectiveness of the New Deal must be in defiance of a mountain of evidence against it, just as Roosevelt himself turned (as Shlaes demonstrates) to policies only recently proved to have failed. Roosevelt’s failure in the Thirties created the Great Depression. Certainly, there was a depression already and Herbert Hoover had made a string of wrong decisions, but Roosevelt took the worst of Hoover’s ideas and made them worse still.
Years into the New Deal, Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary, told the President that their economic policies were not working. Nothing changed. Forty per cent ideologue and sixty per cent egomaniac, Roosevelt paid little attention to most of his cabinet. Long before Obama bizarrely boasted to his newly assembled team of being able to do any of their jobs better than they could, Roosevelt plainly had the same idea. Morgenthau was Treasury Secretary because his estate, near Poughkeepsie, NY, bordered that of the Roosevelts, not because FDR valued his opinion.
Having been unjustly credited with the supposed success of the New Deal, Roosevelt cannot very well escape blame for the grim reality. It was a classic case of taking money from the productive and giving it to the unproductive, but also of pursuing dogma for its own sake. Woodrow Wilson’s administration had already created a depression with the same policies with which Roosevelt now proposed to end one.
Thomas Sowell has summed up the futility of the New Deal in a remark about the Civilian Conservation Corps, a scheme to invent jobs where no actual vacancies existed. Twenty thousand men were given shovels, says Sowell, to replace fifty with bulldozers; if that policy really made sense, why didn’t Roosevelt go the whole way and hand out millions of teaspoons instead?
Yet nobody seems to learn the lesson. Passing French roadsides, I have seen lines of men, armed with spades, hacking away at la France profonde, to achieve no purpose other than to enable a minister in Paris to wave through doctored unemployment figures.
What Coolidge did, genuinely to shrink government, was an extraordinary accomplishment. Even if emulating his feat is hard, that’s no excuse for not trying.