Sunday, October 24, 2010

Turning a Great Recession into a Great Depression

When the Great Depression befell the nation there were no blogs. There wasn't even a Fox News. Thus, the narrative, or better, myth that emerged from the experience cast Franklin Roosevelt as the hero who saved us from economic oblivion.

More recent scholarship has disputed this narrative. Among the most recent we must count Amity Shlaes: The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

As Shlaes sees it, the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations made policy mistake after policy mistake, turning a stock market crash into a Great Depression. And the Federal Reserve did not exactly cover itself with glory either.

Narratives matter, especially when they become dogmatic belief. Given that the Obama administration believes in the classical narrative, whereby Roosevelt saved the world, our president has just spent twenty months repeating all of Hoover and Roosevelt's mistakes.

So explains Amity Shlaes, in this adaptation of a lecture she gave at Hillsdale College. Therein Shlaes explains draws out the parallels between the errors that led to the Great Depression and the policies of the Obama administration. Link here.

The comparisons are positively frightening.


David Foster said...

One big difference between Obama and FDR: Roosevelt did not attempt to demoralize the American people in the way Obama has done--quite the contrary; and while he was clearly an elitist he did not project the generalized contempt that Obama does. And these factors matter, very much, economically.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, David. That's an extremely important point. It is very difficult to feel motivated to do anything when your president is constantly talking down at you and treating you with contempt.

Do you think, perhaps, that the difference lies in the fact that FDR really did belong to an elite, while Obama is just pretending?

I think that the contempt he feels for just about everyone derives from his knowing, somewhere, that he is an impostor. He must be terrified that people are going to find him out.

David Foster said...

I've wondered that about Obama. Actually, though, I think he is so arrogant that he does *not* feel like an impostor. Obama's character reminds me of that of Lord Cardigan, as sketched in George MacDonald Fraser's brilliant novel (which seems pretty true-to-life as far as this individual goes)..."looking as though he had been inspecting God on parade...the spoiled child of fortune who knows with unshakeable certainty that he his right and that the world is exactly ordered for his satisfaction and pleasure."

It was Cardigan who led the Light Brigade into the Valley of Death because he was too stupid or too arrogant to deign to discuss a confusing order with his superior (who he despised), preferring instead to lead his men straight into the mouths of the Russian artillery.

One big difference, though: Cardigan risked his *own* life as well as that of others.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Of course, this gets us into some very interesting psychological waters.

Can someone know that he is an impostor without feeling it... can the thought exist in some kind of limbo where he can never really own it but can never forget it either.

I like the example of Lord Cardigan... even though I do not know very much about him.

But was he one of those people who would rather die than accept that he did not quite deserve the good fortune and privilege that had been bestowed on him... because he had not really worked for it and had not really earned it.

I would imagine that Obama too knows that he did not earn what he has achieved, but that he cannot allow himself to feel it.

That's rank speculation...

David Foster said...

The disaster that befell the Light Brigade was psychologically and sociologically pretty interesting. The officer who delivered the message had a very low opinion of both Lord Lucan, who commanded the overall cavalry, and Lord Cardigan, who commanded the Light Brigade. Lucan and Cardigan, in turn, despised each other. Had these three men been able to put their personal feelings aside and converse in a professional manner for a few moments, they might have been able to decode that the order was really referring to some captured British guns that the Russians were about to haul away, not to the main Russian artillery emplacement.

I expect that disasters of this type are actually pretty common, in business as well as in government--and I doubt that Obama is any more interested in having meaningful conversations with a Republican-dominated Congress than Cardigan was interested in having with Lucan and Nolan.