FDR's True Legacy
He begins by poking fun at Ms. Shlaes by saying that, "Where the words 'new history' appear, revisionism will follow." By this he means to say that any one taking a look at the history of the New Deal better mention how great it and its founder were or else it will be rediculed as hack revisionism. What Shlaes does however is not revisionism, it is rather a rebuke of the New Deal using the basic tenets of economics. Shlaes writes that deflation was the real culprit in the Depression not the stock market crash of 1929, as well as the Smoot-Hawley tariff. She also states that extraordinarily high taxes strangled any attempt by the private sector to recover. These ideas are not the rantings of a mad capitalist, but an assessment of an honest economist who's views are supported by another book dealing with the same subject by Jim Powell titled FDR's Folly. Updike's only rebuke to this is the mocking suggestion that "[b]usiness knows best."
Updike wraps up his little diatribe by explaining that Shlaes would have been better served if it included some "real" life stories from people who suffered through the Depression. He notes a story related in an earlier book from the 70's about a young girl standing in a soupline hoping to get her bucket dunked far enough into a vat of soup so as to get some meat and patatos just to be denied. And then he argues the real reason why FDR should be held up as the second coming: "Roosevelt made such people feel less alone. The impression of recovery—the impression that a President was bending the old rules and, drawing upon his own courage and flamboyance in adversity and illness, stirring things up on behalf of the down-and-out—mattered more than any miscalculations in the moot mathematics of economics." So you see, the "down-and-out" weren't looking for economic recovery, no, they were looking for symbolism and a feeling that some one in Washington cared. One thing is certain, had I been living through the Depression and all I was given was symbolism rather than the means to provide for my family, I would have died on the White House lawn from starvation while trying to find the SOB that was the symbol.
FDR definitely has my respect in that he fought and won World War II, but his domestic legacy is a sham built upon quicksand. Rather than solving the problem wrought by the Depression, FDR simply prolonged the problem and thus created the sentiment that we are still dealing with today. FDR created within the American culture a sense that Washington has to show "caring" for the people's concerns in order to get any credit for accomplishments. This is why, in the 2000 Presidential campaign, then-Governor George W. Bush coined the phrase "Compassionate Conservatism" thus sounding the end to the Reagan Revolution.
If you wish to read Updike's piece go here:
For a piece by Ms. Shlaes go here: