Wednesday, March 27, 2013
FDR - Flubbed Depression's Recovery
UPDATED: September 19, 2014
Does FDR stand for Flubbed Depression's Recovery?
The seven-part Ken Burns PBS special that came out this week devotes one of the episodes to Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, you are not going to learn anything different than you probably did in your American history class or reading general histories. The special does not argue against the commonly held believe that Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for guiding the nation out of the Great Depression. It describes the many programs he started, but spends less time explaining why most of what he tried was no help at all.
In recent years, books like The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes and New Deal or Raw Deal by Burton Folsom have presented strong arguments that Roosevelt's actions made matters worse. Had Roosevelt not interfered so much in the economy, these authors believe the country could have recovered much faster. Neither author was interviewed by Burns.
In May 1939, Roosevelt's Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., made a startling confession (not used in the documentary) in testimony before congress:
"We tried spending money. We are spending money more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong . . .somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job, I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises. . . . I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. . . . And an enormous debt to boot!"
We are currently living in an age with parallels. We are in a time of weak economic growth with a president who believes strongly in government interference in the economy. One of the late night TV talk show hosts told a joke that is most revealing. "After having golfed with the President, Tiger Woods was asked about the President's golf game. 'He's not too bad for someone that only golfs five days a week,' was Tiger's reply. Asked if he knew what the President's handicap was, Tiger said, 'He doesn't understand the economy.'" When the late night comics are poking fun about this, there has to be an element of truth.
Ken Burns is a liberal Democrat, so although he does not stoop to Michael Moore levels of bias and inaccuracy, you can't watch his documentary and expect to see many facts that will show Franklin and Elanor Roosevelt in a bad light.
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