Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Real Lessons Of The Great Depression



Michael Barone | 2/16/2009


"Not since the Great Depression." "Not since the 1930s." You hear those phrases a lot these days, and with some reason. As Congress prepares to pass the Democratic stimulus package, it may be worthwhile to look back at Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and consider how well it worked as policy — and politically.

There's a fairly broad consensus on policy that some of Roosevelt's actions made a positive difference but that they didn't get us out of the Depression. Amity Shlaes in her path-breaking "The Forgotten Man" makes a strong case that some of Roosevelt's moves blocked recovery, and even his admirers admit that his policies led to a sharp recession in 1937-38. After eight years of the New Deal, unemployment remained at 15 percent in 1940 — double the figure for today. What really got us out of the Depression was World War II. The total number of employed persons and military personnel increased from 44 million in 1938 to 65 million in 1944.

So it would be unwise to copy the New Deal as a recipe for economic recovery.


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