Friday, July 16, 2010

What's Happening Now, What Was Happening Then

The predominant theme of our occasional outbursts of reason is clear to those Gentle Readers who persist in imbibing SWNIDish wisdom in these trying days: the people whom we elected to protect our liberties are spending money on crap and demanding that we pay for it while they chase the actual and prospective creators of wealth from pillar to post, alternately demonizing and regulating them until they abandon any attempt at commerce.

So it's good once again to consult with historian of the Great Depression Amity Shlaes, who notes in this week's WSJ the disturbing antecedents to the present statism in the administration of the talented but emotionally handicapped FDR.

We love Shlaes for many reasons. For one, as we read her chronicles of the Depression she connects federal policies of the era to anecdotes from the SWNIDish extended family (e.g., our maternal grandparents refused to participate in the federal program that paid farmers to slaughter and bury their hogs, stubbornly affirming the gross stupidity of the idea, while their neighbors dutifully complied with the mandate except for the burying part, collected the subsidy, and then feasted on the pork).

For another she notes how the economic ideas that allegedly undergirded FDR's casting about for solutions to the Depression were so so misunderstood by the Great Man and his sycophants that the exalted and derided Keynes himself tried to intervene personally. All influential figures, it seems, need to be saved from their followers.

But most importantly, Shlaes has demonstrated to the satisfaction of everyone except those with a political or pecuniary interest in re-inaugurating Rooseveltism that FDR's manipulations of the economy clearly extended the Great Depression into something Greater. And it wasn't the blessing of Pearl Harbor that restarted prosperity, but FDR's realization that to prepare for war, he needed first to make peace with business. As long as he was acting capriciously with monetary policy, tax policy, regulatory policy, and every other policy in a massive, self-glorifying improvisation, no one with a dime to his name would invest in the future. When he stopped, capital flowed once again.

On the caprice, Gentle Readers should note well Shlaes' remarks about FDR's arbitrary and personal manipulations of the gold price and then ask themselves what is to be gained by blaming CEOs for bad decisions only to put decisions in the hands of politicians.

This last point is what we're certain about now: the collective uncertainty about what today's Great Man and his minions will do next, not to mention the uncertainty about the implementation and effects of what he has already done, has frozen risk taking and so is keeping the world poorer than it needs to be.

BHO and FDR have in common the wholesale, Manichean demonization of business to demagogue the self-pitying into voting them into office. That rhetoric has yielded the same policy mistake for each. And when the policy mistakes yield the predictably bad outcomes, each turns back to the blame (e.g., presently it's CEOs' fault for sitting on $1.7 trillion in cash: they're petulant and vindictive toward BHO, not worried about the compounded uncertainties of the future as potentially redirected by the present administration).

So the right response is clear enough. "America's Working Families" need to quit feeling sorry for themselves, stop looking to pin blame, demand the liberty to exchange goods and services without bureaucratic interference or confiscatory taxation, and get back to what the business of America is.

Did we mention that Amity Shlaes is writing a biography of Calvin Coolidge? Mister, we could use a man like Silent Cal again.


JB in CA said...

The FDR/Obama analogy is worrisome. I hope the latter doesn't get us out of our economic problems the same way the former finally did.

JB in CA said...

"'America's Working Families' need to ... stop looking to pin blame... ."

Ah, c'mon, that's no fair. Why does Amity Shlaes (and SWNID) get to pin blame, but we don't?

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

The operative word is "finally," which came after a distinct change in policy. Just so everyone realizes what we're talking about.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

By the way, we note with some pride that we aren't pinning blame for the recession, though we are pinning blame for the sluggishness of recovery on a federal fisc that is everything it shouldn't be in a recessionary environment. Resurgent populism, on the other hand, is nothing but blame.

Well, there's envy too.