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Lance, one of my favorite professors of all time, Robert H. Ferrell, said that it's not the person who is right that wins the argument, but the person who does the best arguing. He said the only thing a person could arm themselves with was knowledge. The current Republicans seem to be excellent debaters and we should indeed be on our toes. It's not surprising that they would try to glorify the Gilded Age, after all, what was that period, but a time when white men profited without the restraint of rules. Seems we are back there again.

Also, I have nothing against white men... I married one. It's just that history seems to show a disproportionate amount of white men succeeding at the costs of others.


Well, why not the Robber Barons? After all, Coulter just tried to gloss over McCarthy's sins.

Speaking of which, I trust we'll see a review of the new Clooney movie here.

res publica

The problem is that the whole history of America from the Mayflower Compact on is a record of Liberal victory over the stubborn forces of conservativism, privilege, and reaction, so where do you start?

Amen. I hope we're not living in the end of that story.



I hate to think of myself as a "crafty debate club debater" but I do remember, when I was debating in college, I hoped this topic would be chosen. It was the easiest in the world to defend. WPA et al did very little. The proof is trying to find a notable economist who thinks it did. The fact is the New Deal itself, with its shortsighted programs, deepened the Great Depression, swelled the federal government, and prevented the country from turning around quickly. FDR’s federal programs hurt America more than helped it, with effects we still feel today.

We need to pull back the shroud of awe and the cloak of time enveloping FDR to prove convincingly how flawed his economic policies actually were, despite his good intentions and the astounding intellect of his circle of advisers. In today’s turbulent domestic and global environment, eerily similar to that of the 1930s, it’s more important than ever before to uncover and understand the truth of our history, lest we be doomed to repeat it.

Read anything by Milton Friedman on the topic. He is very clear with the data and we are talking statistics, not rhetoric. Eight years after the start of the depression we had more people unemployed and more of a deficit. Some savior.



I refer you to this comment from a reader refuting the last conservative to stop by here making your case.

And if any of you in the Tennesse Valley are nodding your heads in agreement with Trash, ask yourself how it happens you have electricity for your computer.


The argument that Roosevelt didn't end the Depression is really a vulgarized subset of the argument between Keynesian economics and neoneoclassical economics (vulgarly and somewhat improperly known as the Second Chicago School). It has specific and interesting ramifications and avatars within the American context, but it's not actually only a specifically American question. The worldwide Great Depression was ended by various permutations of Keynesian and Keynesian-lite economic policies - even the Nazis' "economic theory" was in some ways similar to Keynesian theory.

We forget that Keynesianism was heavily opposed by the first Chicago School (Frank Knight, Jacob Viner, etc.)as well as various popularizers such as Henry Hazlitt. But, since the new dominant economic paradigm was mathematical Keynesianism a la Samuelson, Klein, Solow et al. AND the global economy prospered so significantly under the Keynesian consensus (c.1941-1970s), the general populance was largely unaware of the conflict until, globally, the Keynesian consensus was shattered by economic crisis in the 1970s and was replaced by the Second Chicago School (or neoneoclassicism) some of whose opening salvos (see Friedman) was specifically arguing with the Keynesian interpretation of the Depression experience.


"The proof is trying to find a notable economist who thinks it did."

Almost every major and minor economist (though some quibbled on the margins) believed it did until the 1970s. The only economists who didn't were the handful of what was then considered the crazies of the Second Chicago School.


"Read anything by Milton Friedman on the topic. He is very clear with the data and we are talking statistics"

Distrust any statistics provided by Friedman. He ignores the ones he doesn't like, highlights the ones that support his arguments and twists the ones that are ambigious. Deidre McCloskey has made a career out of pointing out how statistics are used rhetorically in economics.


"Amen. I hope we're not living in the end of that story."

Remember that the vast majority of the "free cities" of the Middle Ages ended up rapidly degenerating into plutocratic dictatorships, where the only democracry was a handful of wealthy families selecting from amongst themselves the new rulers. It's not simply accidental that these democracies were so degenerate by the 18th century that the philosophes properly largely ignored them in the Enlightment's drive toward what was hoped to be an entirely rethought form of democracy.


I'd sooner trust Milton Berle's rotting corpse about the economic effects of the New Deal than Milton Friedman.

I was being taught that Roosevelt's New Deal didn't end the Depression as early as High School. Taught that by teachers who were anti-union, in a town where it was legendary that teachers got fired in their 19th year of working, just before the most expensive pensions vested.

That simmering propaganda has always to trip most easily from the tongues of bankers and their related incompetent ilk, who basically believe that the worst part of the New Deal is that it took away their ability to fuck up the economy, over and over and over again.

In other words: people who thought the US worked best in about 1898. Guess I should follow that link you got there, mister man.


I tried to point out earlier that Milton Friedman has his own ax to grind and is thus untrustworthy, but Typepad gave me an error I'd never seen before (with option to copy my text, which was kind of it), so it didn't post. I'm glad to see others have taken up my point.

Red Tory

Rather curious that conservatives were in power when the Depression hit (R.B. Bennett here in Canada and Herbert Hoover in the US) and that liberals (McKenzie King and Franklin Roosevelt) brought the economy back to life. Funny that, isn't it? Pure co-incidence, I'm sure.

As for Milton Friedman, didn't he blame the deepening of the Depression on the misguided policies of the directors of the Federal Reserve for tightening the money supply under the aforesaid conservative administrations?

mac macgillicuddy

"it’s more important than ever before to uncover and understand the truth of our history, lest we be doomed to repeat it."

The people who win arguments are the people who utter sound bite stuff and use the word "lest."

The Green Knight

Milton Friedman? Please; monetarism has been just about as thoroughly discredited by real-world experience as Marxism.


L., I *think* it was Sam Ervin who used to snap at constituents who complained about "Roosevelt taxes" that if it weren't for the New Deal they wouldn't have any incomes to tax. Pat Moynihan used to taunt Southern senators with the fact that NY money paid for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Mind you, plenty of folks in that part of the country knew who ensured their survival in the Depression. I had to grow up and move to NY to hear this business about WW II ending the Depression and not Roosevelt. My father's side of the family is from deep in TVA country (North Alabama) and even when I was growing up in the 70s you'd walk into a house to see FDR's picture on one side of the mantelpiece and Jesus on the other.

But robber barons, hell. They're also trying to rehabilitate HUAC. As someone who mourns the movies that could have been made sans blacklist, that truly gets the Siren's goat.

Erik Loomis

This is the way I teach this (much as Lance explains he argues this)

It's true that the New Deal didn't end the Depression. It did what FDR meant it to do--it gave hope to the American people, it put at least some Americans back to work, it stabilized the economy, it established further government regulation of the economy, and it undercut radical movements becoming overly popular.

But it did not end the Great Depression.


It simply wasn't big enough. The New Deal spent far too little money to end the Depression. The reason WWII did end the Depression was that the nation spent an amazing amount of money which put people back to work. Had FDR been able to spend the kind of money in the 30s as he could in the 40s, the Depression would have ended almost immediately.

When I made this argument to my class the other week, no one objected. But I think all the right wingers have dropped out. I know one walked out after I made connections between the fact that it was blacks abandoned in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and our history of racism. Never saw that guy again. I'm salviating to be accused of bias by the College Republicans. That's a fight I was born to fight.


I agree with your takedown of the conservative lament.

However, this part of your Socratic dialog is incorrect:

"And where did all those people go to work?

Um, the military.

Which means who paid their salaries?

The Government."

At no time in the period from 1939 to 1945 did government jobs, including the armed services, exceed private sector ones. The labor force shifted, amazingly quickly, into support of the war effort, but the majority of these people supporting the military worked in the private sector. Thus, all philosophical subcurrents as to where the money came from aside, the government did not pay their salaries. I'd settle for saying that, in many cases, the government made it possible for their salaries to be paid. One would assume,, however, companies like Ford Motor Company that went from production of domestic goods to military goods would continued to have pay their employees had their been no war.

Again, that aside, you are correct. 1938 is properly compared to 1931-32, not to 1928.


I do wish it were possible to edit typos in comments after posting.
That wud be a gud theeng.


I love that Reiner quotation. How dreamy. Nowadays, it must always be the sons and daughters of the well-off who can go to New York and risk it, who can bum around and write novels, etc. They have the time to do it because they know that they have a cushion they can land upon.

I think that maybe the upper-middles and uppers are terrified to reinstate WPA programs that could train anyone lower in real skills (doesn't have to be the arts, right) because they're afraid of the possibility that their little darlings won't live up to the challenge.

I think the key thing to remember is that the New Deal, combined with the war, gave whole groups of people the chance to learn skills that they were denied before. Say, women having the chance to work and realizing there was a whole new world out there. This knowledge alone was a kind of currency that helped the US pull itself out of the depression.

Erik Loomis

OK, most of these workers went into the private sector. But lots of those jobs were private sector jobs funded by government contracts. So we're really splitting hairs here.



You're right about the private sector jobs vs. military jobs. But, as Erik says, the number of people who were working on military contracts plus the number of people in the Armed Forces did amount to a giant Government jobs program. Ford and the rest wouldn't have been paying a lot of those workers because without the military contracts they wouldn't have needed them all. And of course the point of liberal jobs programs is to stimulate private businesses and industries and that apparently worked. But still. I beg to be excused for my poor phrasing on the grounds that I was a sophomore and am still sophomoric.

harry near indy

and one reason the u.s. economy went gangbusters in the 1950s was because, iirc, we were the only major combatant during the ww2 who didn't have his territory blown up/bombed/severly damaged.


Erik Loomis of Alterdestiny identifies a period of history currently being revised in their favor by Right Wing intellectuals.

The Gilded Age.

Oh, Jebus. They are not really thinking this, are they? I have to words for these morons. Huey Long. The conservatives should be getting down on their knees and thanking their lucky stars that FDR was around when he was. Because otherwise the Gilded Age would have ended with Long's Share Our Wealth Program or worse a red revolution. I can't believe they are this dumb.


And, harry, we had a whole slew of vets who'd gone to school on the GI Bill, and thus were breaking down the doors which had been held closed by the pre-war WASP-y elite.


Since I'm not above a little Kos diary whoring, here is a little summary I wrote about the Kingfish, with details about the share our wealth program.


"My father's side of the family is from deep in TVA country (North Alabama) and even when I was growing up in the 70s you'd walk into a house to see FDR's picture on one side of the mantelpiece and Jesus on the other."

Entirely appropriate, because a lot of people in TVA country would have starved to death if FDR's programs hadn't been around.


"Oh, Jebus. They are not really thinking this, are they? "

They've been booting around the idea for more than 20 years (go read any of Epstein's law and economics, it's a greased route straight back to the Gilded Age). It's only recently that liberals have found out.


The difference between working on government contracts and being in the Army was actually even more slim than presented above. My Grandpa HJ was an autoworker at a Bendix plant, and intended to join the Army (even though he was in his late 30s, I think). A local Army officer told me he had a simple choice: build airplanes at Bendix; or build airplanes at Bendix, in a uniform, for less money.

So HJ stayed a civilian.

Anne Laurie

Lance, I recommend a re-reading of Finley Peter Dunne's great American creation Mr. Dooley. Ever since the first "Moral Majority" creations started crawling out of from under their rocks in the 80s, I've been recycling Mr. Dooley's comments as proof that history really does repeat itself... as farce. Dunne was writing for the Very Popular Press (the newspapers) when Karl Rove's idol William McKinley was at the apex of his powers, and it's amazing how much the Republicans have neither changed nor improved in the last hundred years *sigh*. You'd think anyone who could puzzle out the long words well enough to read up on the Gilded Age would also be able to follow along the rest of the story and see that its consequences... well... I suppose that if they don't understand the irony behind the choice of "Gilded" over "Golden", they're not going to understand that whole actions-have-consequences issue anyways. I know Karl was pleased to imagine George the Lesser as Teddy Roosevelt to Reagan's McKinley, but the Roosevelt I learned about in the New York City schools was a closer equivalent to the Geena Davis character in COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF. Could it be that George is actually this era's McKinley (speaking of farce), with the WHIG standing in for the doctors who turned McKinley's survivable bullet wound into a postmortem transfer of power to the "Goo-Goo" progressives?



I'm the one who should be begging to be excused. I agreed with your larger point but got all pedantic on a trivial matter. Next time, kick me to the curb, where I belong if I'm going to pull cheap stuff like that. Sorry.


Speaking of GWB as the new McKinely - I wouldn't exactly call the Iraq War this century's Spanish-American War; not exactly "splendid" or "little".

Actually I've been thinking of Bush as FDR's evil and incompetent twin (or at least some demented parody of FDR).

FDR complained about how Supreme Court justices were trying to overturn parts of the New Deal. GWB complains about "activist judges".

FDR pointed to Hitler as a great and growing evil and spent the late 30s and pre-Pearl Harbour 40s preparing the US for war. GWB did the same thing with Saddam.

FDR had his "Fireside Chats". GWB has his "Townhalls".

FDR created Social Security. GWB tried to "reform" (destroy) it.


Ah, the good old days, when government actually built stuff with all that spending. Dams and roads and all kinds of great stuff! Nowadays all you get for your tax money is a crap medical plan that you can't use until you're old or completely infirm, a crap retirement plan, and a complete botching of a war that wasn't necessary in the first place.


Transgendered whatever said: "The fact is the New Deal itself, with its shortsighted programs, deepened the Great Depression, swelled the federal government, and prevented the country from turning around quickly. FDR’s federal programs hurt America more than helped it, with effects we still feel today. "

A simple look at the GDP growth rates in 1930-1940 would demolish your argument. Unless you're going to argue that the economy was going to magically recover anyway in 1933 onward, and that the phenominal rates achieved under FDR were somehow a failure.

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