In last week’s letter I discussed the difference between liberalism and conservatism’s attitude toward government.
I wrote about Louis Brandeis and F.D.R. as exemplars of the progressive tradition and how the New Deal attempted to reform and restructure our capitalist economy.
The W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration 1935-1943) employed more than 8,000,000 people building roads, highways, bridges, schools, and airports.
The AAA of 1933 was designed to keep embattled farmers’ prices high. To regulate banks, Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act (1933).
The F.C.C. (Federal Communications Commission – 1934) today governs all radio, T.V. and cable licensing. The Wagner Act (1935) protected labor unions. The S.S.A. (Social Security Administration-1935) provided pensions for retired workers.
From this flurry of activities, it can be seen that Roosevelt was doing everything in his power to reform the system and to save capitalism. It has been argued that in spite of these Herculean efforts the New Deal did not appreciably reduce the number of unemployed.
According to Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation, “U.S. unemployment averaged 18 percent during Roosevelt’s first eight years in office…after eight years, unemployment still averaged…14 per cent.”
So what did get us out of the depression?
Most would agree it was World War II! I will not dispute these statistics or their interpretation. What I would point out is that F.D.R. offered more than economic nostrums.
His “fireside chats” where he spoke by radio directly into the homes of millions gave our citizens hope. He also informed his countrymen that there was “nothing to fear but fear itself.”
In 1936, he ran for a second term against Governor Alf Landon winning all but two states in a landslide victory. And what was his campaign theme song?
“Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again”
I would argue that one should not underestimate the importance of psychological factors when explaining economic phenomena. Case in point – F.D.R.
What do conservatives believe? Terrence Jeffrey writing in Human Events points to ten bedrock beliefs of which six appear below.
- “Life is the first God-given right.
- Marriage and Family Come Before the State.
- Private property is the Servant of Freedom.
- Government Dependency is the Seed of Tyranny.
- The Constitution Means What It Says.
- Taxes Are Justified Only To Fund Necessary Government Speeding.”
In other terms, conservatives believe in God, the sanctity of marriage, private ownership, small government and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. There are many exemplars of these beliefs, including some already mentioned like Taft,
Goldwater, and Reagan. There are also a host of Fox News broadcasters like Sean Hannity as well as radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh.
These right-wing partisans are not well respected, but others like George Will and Charles Krauthammer are more scholarly.
So, the lines are clearly drawn between liberals and conservatives. At the 1936 Democratic Convention, F.D.R. stated that his generation had a “rendezvous with destiny.”
On the other hand, an article called “Why Government Is Your Enemy” appeared in The Federal Observer. “From Social Security, to welfare, to Medicare…to money, to food, to water…we are at the government’s mercy,” it argued.
Commenting on efforts to shrink government, Emily Bazelon and Eric Posner wrote in the New York Times, It turns out that the public often likes regulation – because it keeps the air and water clean, the workplace safe and the financial system in working order.”
Two final thoughts: Ecclesiastes tells us that “to every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
Maybe this applies to economic theory as well.
On the other hand, I end up siding with Dante who wrote: “Divine Justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded (read conservative) and the sins of the warm-hearted (read liberal) on different scales.”
Dr. Hal Sobel