One of the most readable expositions of why the New Deal was an economic debacle is Jim Powell’s book, FDR’s Folly. It summarizes more than a half century of economic research on the actual effects of the New Deal and presents the results in a very readable, conversational style that is suitable to a general reading audience. And every bit of it is being studiously ignored by the powers that be in Washington. After his voluminous survey of the ill effects of New Deal interventionism Powell concludes with "lessons for today." Every one of these lessons is not only being ignored by Washington policymakers, but the policy proposals coming out of Washington are ominously structured to do exactly the opposite of what Powell suggests.
Lesson Number One is that "the basic problem with central banks is that like socialist economic planners, they can never have more than a fraction of the vast knowledge needed to make a society work, knowledge that is dispersed in the minds of millions of people. In addition, when central bankers make mistakes – as they inevitably will, since they’re human beings – these mistakes harm not just the economy in a city or a region but the entire country. The Fed’s response to the current economic crisis, which it created by creating the housing bubble, has been to declare more and more central planning powers for itself."
Lesson Number Two is that "deposit insurance must be priced to reflect the risks of the banks that buy it. Having the federal government provide deposit insurance inevitably introduced political pressures to offer deposit insurance at the same price for all banks, which meant subsidized banks engaged in risky practices and contributed to the instability of the banking system." The federal government recently expanded the coverage of federal deposit insurance, thereby guaranteeing more excessively risky lending in the future.
Lesson Number Three is, "Especially because taxes are the biggest burden millions of people face today, it’s crucial to cut taxes. Tax cuts mean expanding economic liberty . . ." President-elect Obama is promising punitive taxes on the most productive people in America – higher income families and investors and savers, combined with government handouts that he mislabels as "tax cuts" for people who don’t even pay income taxes.
Lesson Number Four is "efforts to ‘soak the rich’ will backfire, because the investments of the rich are needed to create jobs." If Obama’s campaign and, indeed, his entire political career, has been about anything it has been about soaking the rich and "redistributing" income and wealth through the tax system.
Lesson Number Five is "public works and other ‘jobs’ programs must be avoided because they increase the cost and burden of government, making it more difficult for the private sector to function." All of Washington is foaming at the mouth over the prospect of more pork-barrel spending, laughingly labeled "stimulus package."
Lesson Number Six is that "especially during a recession or depression, the government must not enact laws preventing prices from adjusting to circumstances. Prices are vital signals that help people decide what to produce and consume." The government has been doing exactly the opposite. Stopping prices from adjusting to realistic levels is the whole intent of the Fed’s policies as well as the Wall Street Plutocrat Bailout Bill.
Lesson Number Seven is that "government must not enact laws preventing wages from adjusting to circumstances . . . . Labor union monopolies have been major obstacles to adjusting wages." One of the first orders of business for the Obama administration will be to strengthen labor union monopolies by passing a law that prohibits secret ballot voting in union certification elections.
Lesson Number Eight is, "only if investors feel private property is secure will they be willing to make long-term financial commitments needed to spur recovery and boost employment." The government has been busy charging businesses that have simply gone bankrupt with crimes, promising more of the same, placing price controls on executive pay, increasing the taxation of investment with higher capital gains taxes, and generally demonizing the entire American capitalist system as a means of shifting the blame for the economic crisis that its own stupid policies have created.
In other words, everything going on in Washington today is a recipe for another Great Depression.
November 11, 2008
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest AbeandHow Capitalism Saved America. His latest book, Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution – And What It Means for America Today, will be published on October 21.
Copyright © 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute