FDR’s New Deal stifled economy for 15 years

So why did the Great Depression last for more than 15 years? In 2009, many think the United States could be in a 1929 situation, where the government has the opportunity to take action by spending more cash, or let the capitalist system loose, cutting taxes and letting the free market run.

In the 1930s, FDR’s solution was to spend and spend, and get intimately involved with the wages of private company employees.

I’m not predicting another Great Depression, but we have great historical records from the 1930s and into the 1940s about what worked and what did not. We have the advantage of hindsight – isn’t that a great thing?

Malkin reminds us about the 2004 UCLA study that blamed the long downturn on FDR’s policies.

In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.

“President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services,” said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics. “So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies.”

In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt’s policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.

So they raised wages for everyone who had a job, but unemployment remained high and prices were higher too. That plan did not work out so well.

(I’m going to use arbitrary numbers here, and since trillions seem to be the new billions…)

What makes more sense?

  1. Have the government increase spending by one trillion dollars projects to “kick start” the economy.
  2. Lower federal taxes – permanently – by one trillion dollars and let the free market, states and municipalities decide where to spend that one trillion.

Spending this amount of money at the federal level leaves too many opportunities for graft, misuse and overspending. When was the last time you were able to go to a meeting with your US House representative or senator?

How about another option?

The money – if it is spent at all – should be spent at the local level.

Let’s cut federal taxes and in-turn cut the federal budget by 60 percent? I’m not kidding. Per our Constitution, they do not have the authority to spend most of that cash anyway.

Then, increase state and local taxes to cover the cash they do not get from the feds. Make it an equal sum game; dollar for dollar. Again, I’m not kidding.

More power would be returned to the states, cities and towns, and I bet more people would get actively involved in local government.

Stop for a second and answer this question. Can you name half of the members of your local school board?

Maybe the horse really is out of the barn, especially when today’s speech at George Mason University by the president-elect included the following, my emphasis added.

It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy – where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

There you have it. Only government can save the economy.

Maybe Obama should have stop in to see if Professor Williams had office hours today at GMU?

How about a debate between our friend Walter Williams and the president-elect? That would be so sweet.

Home page photo courtesy jimbowen0306 at Flickr.

Update: Morrissey at HotAir brings the subject up again. It’s definately worth a second look again.

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Steve McGough

Steve's a part-time conservative blogger. Steve grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas. He resides in Connecticut, where he’s comfortable six months of the year.


  1. Dimsdale on January 8, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Yup, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

    PEBO is a believer in big goverment as the solution to all problems, great and small.  He needs to be educated in the history of the country: it did not become great due to government.  It became great despite it.  Socialism is no solution.  Have you ever heard of a great socialist country?  Me neither.

    The socialist course that we are heading down is the path to a banana republic.  It sure isn't going to make us great.

  2. Rick-WH on January 8, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    I wonder if Professor Williams would have agreed to see Obama?

    I suppose so, since Obama is President-Elect, has the seal and everything else.

    The real question – would Obama listen to Professor Williams?

    I think not.

    Let's see, 15 years from now – is 2024?   Yikes!

    I am going to print out a copy of Steve's post and place it in a time capsule along with copies of Professor Williams' writings, just in case they aren't still available then.

  3. Erik from WH on January 8, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    "have you ever heard of a great socialist nation"    name me a great nation at this point?    As a country I think that we are screwed. You have to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others get theirs on. Meaning.. develop a strategy to make sure that you are personally going to be OK, and then seek to change the government.


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