Monday, April 20, 2020

Presidential Leadership 101

The American political left fought a war against poverty-- and poverty won. So concluded Amity Shlaes in her new book, Great Society. 

Yet, Ed Driscoll happily began his highly laudatory review with a look back at a prior Shlaes work, The Forgotten Man. (via Maggie's Farm)

The book revisted Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the policy agenda that supposedly saved us from the Depression. In the minds of most Americans the New Deal did save the nation and did save capitalism. Such is the influence of propaganda.

At a time when the jury has still not decided whether America is entering a Recession or Depression, denizens of the political left are calling for another New Deal and for another FDR.

Thus, we are indebted to Driscoll for reminding us that the New Deal failed to get America out of the Great Depression. FDR had a massive propaganda machine at his disposal and it has inculcated the notion that the New Deal was a great success and that FDR was a great leader. In truth it was World War II that got us out of the depression.

The eponymous Forgotten Man was the taxpayer, the man footing the bill to fund FDR’s New Deal. As a UCLA press release explained in 2004, “FDR’s policies prolonged Depression by 7 years, UCLA economists calculate.” Even socialist Roosevelt worshiper Paul Krugman has been forced to refer to the economic “Miracle of the 1940s” -- known to the rest of us as World War II -- to explain how the economy was revived after the Depression. As Mark Steyn once wrote, “Lots of other places -- from Britain to Australia -- took a hit in 1929 but, alas, they lacked an FDR to keep it going till the end of the Thirties. That’s why in other countries they refer to it as ‘the Depression,’ but only in the U.S. is it ‘Great.’”

How did FDR prevent America from overcoming the depression? Simply put, he expanded government and choked off business. And it sucked so much taxpayer money into the government that little was left to sustain business activity:

A key reason that the Depression was “Great” was what Shlaes called “regime uncertainty.” “The trouble,” she wrote in the Forgotten Man, “was not merely the new policies that were implemented but also the threat of additional, unknown, policies. Fear froze the economy, but that uncertainty itself might have a cost was something the young experimenters simply did not consider.”

But, you will say, FDR did lead the free world to victory in World War II:

Left-leaning historians have largely given Roosevelt passing grades as a president because of his successful handling of World War II. As PJM’s own Victor Davis Hanson wrote in his 2017 book, The Second World Wars:

In the end, Americans, who could not settle on much else, agreed that in World War II its greatest generation of leaders—Franklin D. Roosevelt, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Stimson, Omar Bradley, George Patton, Chester Nimitz, Douglas MacArthur, and others—saved the country and perhaps civilization as well from the Axis, and created democracy in the political systems of Germany, Japan, and Italy, the countries that had once set the world on fire.

One should enter a cautionary note here. And we can do so by raising an issue that Winston Churchill identified.

Churchill noted that in World War I and World War II, only one nation could have stopped the carnage before it got completely out of control. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were late to the game. They allowed the situations to fester until the point where tens of millions of people died. Had they intervened earlier the situation might have turned out differently. 

Today, the American political left is up in arms about the Nazis on our own shore, once upon a time there really was a Hitler, And during the time of Hitler America had one and only one president. For eight years of Hitler FDR did nearly nothing to constrain or defeat him. Without decisive American leadership on the world stage Hitler had a free hand.

One understands that Roosevelt apologists insist that he did as much as anyone could have done. In truth, he did nothing of real consequence to stop the Third Reich before it had taken over nearly all of Europe.

Sometimes early intervention is less costly than late intervention. Those who believe that America should retreat to its own shores should understand that it is sometimes better to fight a small war than a large war. At times, it's better to act decisively at the onset and to prevent war.

We are certainly correct to credit those who won World War I and World War II. And yet, if those catastrophes could have been diminished by better American leadership, I believe that we should restrain our impulse to praise Woodrow Wilson and FDR. 

Wilson's leadership failures during World War I were extensively outlined by one Theodore Roosevelt in a series of op-ed columns that were written from 1914 to 1919. They have been collected in four volumes. The first was entitled: America and the World War. If you want to measure Wilson's failure they are essential reading. Sadly, we have no such contemporaneous critique of FDR's failure to deal with a rising German Nazi state.

The New Deal was about mobilizing the government to rescue the economy. It expanded government and did not rescue the economy. The Great Society, run by Lyndon Johnson, did not do any better. And, we should note, as Shlaes and Driscoll do, that the Great Society was concocted by leftist academics with the active participation of labor unions.

Driscoll quotes a review from Reason magazine:

In his review of Great Society at Reason magazine, John McClaughry writes:

And that brings Shlaes to her trenchant conclusion. Quoting the economist Friedrich Hayek, she concludes that grand governmental schemes to broadly reorder society are doomed to fail. Public planners do not have adequate information from the grassroots, and they cannot collect information from a nonexistent price system. The Great Society program deserves to go down in U.S. history as a baneful example of a far-ranging, high-sounding, politically motivated experiment that turned out to be largely futile in achieving its hopes, proposed and carried out by theoreticians and planners who (to borrow from Moynihan) simply did not know what they were doing. With the notable exceptions of the civil rights bills, this was a sorry legislative era that festers in the memory of many people still living.


trigger warning said...

I agree with AOC and her hero, Friedrich Krugman. Poverty is caused by billionaires, racism, and zeenyphobia.

UbuMaccabee said...

Business earns the money. Government spends the money. Any attempt to build an economy without accepting this premise will falter and fail. Contempt for business is a contempt for the pursuit of happiness. So many pursuits of happiness that the human intellect simply cannot account for them all--and shouldn't try. Pursue your own and let the other guy pursue his; form alliances when natural interests dovetail. Hayak was spot on that no amount of central planning can do what the vast army of individual men and women can do without their "help."

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Schlaes is excellent. I’m listening to “The Great Society” now on Audible.

“The Forgotten Man” is outstanding. I love her quoting of William Graham Sumner — prescient in out times:

“As soon as A observes something which seems to him wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or, in better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X... What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. he is the man who never is thought of.... I call him the forgotten man... He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays..."

Indeed. That’s where the TEA Party came from: Taxed Enough Already.

Ubu: Government “creates jobs.” Didn’t you know? Give credit where credit is due... tsk-tsk.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

One thing that is clear amidst the current madness is the totalitarian impulse — made manifest — in Democrats with executive authority.

I know. I live under the Directorate of Michigan under Governess Gretchen Whitmer. My Mother always told me to fear an angry woman with power. That’s what I’m living with: arbitrary, capricious and vindictive. One nasty beast!

I encourage all of you to take what you’re seeing and super-impose the press reaction to what Republican Governors would be doing under a Democrat Administration.

The Fourth Estate is absolutely PATHETIC. The First Amendment covers politically-correct activists only. Facebook says so. Free speech is for “Correct” speech.