Monday, April 18, 2005

America's Stalin

Yesterday's Sunday New York Times included an advertising supplement for a History Channel's program entitled, FDR: A Presidency Revealed. The print ad added an inadvertently revealing description of Roosevelt, however, calling him "America's Man of Steel." Hmm, you mean "Man of Steel" as in the Russian, "Stalin"? Why, yes! I do mean as in "Stalin"!

I doubt that the History Channel mean to equate Roosevelt to Stalin. Their website does not repeat the phrase used in that print ad, perhaps because somebody noticed the infelicitous choice of words. Even I wouldn't go so far as to equate Roosevelt to that Russian butcher, a man more bloody than steely. Still, I am quite willing to analogize the two politicians.

In large part due to the prevailing miasma of totalitarian ideologies, the early 20th Century gave the world a bumper crop of tyrants. Roosevelt numbers with Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini as a man who won political power thanks to bad ideas. I don't say that just to slight Roosevelt; I say it to praise the fundamental good sense of the American people and their constitutional republic. His overseas counterparts no doubt sneered at Roosevelt's ineffectual attempts to nationalize the U.S. economy and enslave his subjects. "Why, he couldn't organize a death camp sing-along!" they must have joked. To our credit, rather than to Roosevelt's, he couldn't.

10 comments:

Thomas said...

FDR (and his cousin Teddy) got us started down the road to what is, by any reasonable measure, something just short a centrally planned economy, with a strong dose of police state thrown in. I have estimated the cost of the regulatory-welfare state here and here. My estimate is much larger than standard estimates, because I have tried to account for the disincentive effects of taxes and regulations on the aggregate level of economic activity. The cumulative cost since the dawn of the regulatory-welfare state in the U.S. -- about 100 years ago -- has been a reduction in GDP of about 40 percent. And that's on top of the 45-percent bite government takes out of current output (what we're still able to muster in spite of government), in the form of taxes and regulatory burdens.

As I explain here, "we the people" (or most of us, anyway) must take responsibility for the massive destruction of income and wealth by state. "We" seem to have the kind of government we want, if not the kind of government we deserve, because "we" are irrationally wedded to government as the solution, when it's really the problem.

Caliban said...

I despise FDR. When I saw the History Channel special, I was floored. I had never, ever, ever seen anything on the television that treated FDR as anything other than an American Messiah. God and Jesus get worse press than he does.

But, it turns out their promise of an expose was misplaced. They put all the "bad stuff" in the context of "desperate measures" to save America.

To me, the unrelenting doublethink about FDR blows my mind. You can come up with any justification you want, but the guy interned thousands of people on strictly racial grounds, firebombed and nuked about a million (that's not hyperbole) enemy civilians and systematically violated the Constitution (as is objectively provable by the Supreme Court decisions of the day).

I haven't even started on his economic policies. My doctor has advised against it.

Glen Whitman said...

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed under Truman, I believe.

Anonymous said...

Yup, Truman ok'ed bombing hiroshima and nagasaki even though he had fore-knowledge that Japan was going to surrender. But that could just be revisionist history bit. But I have to say, going to the tolerance museum (museum documenting the bombing) in Hiroshima was quite disturbing; esp. the wax figures.

Why is FDR so bad? Wasn't he just under the pressure of vamping up the economy after the Depression? Weren't those programs such as social security started as a safe-guard and solution to what has happened to American's savings? I would only think that he's an anti-hero to libertarians because of his policies that are still in effect. But if you libertarians were around in his time, I would not think you'd think FDR is a true statist devil.
I could be totally off on my history remarks about FDR as I did not research this before commenting.

sk

Thomas said...

Anonymous wrote: "Wasn't [FDR] just under the pressure of vamping up the economy after the Depression? Weren't those programs such as social security started as a safe-guard and solution to what has happened to American's savings? I would only think that he's an anti-hero to libertarians because of his policies that are still in effect. But if you libertarians were around in his time, I would not think you'd think FDR is a true statist devil.
I could be totally off on my history remarks about FDR as I did not research this before commenting."

And you are totally off. FDR inveighed against "economic royalists" (i.e., capitalists) and his policies were opposed at the time by persons we would now call libertarians, including some Supreme Court justices who wrote some pretty good opinions about the damage that FDR's policies would do.

The man seemed bent on destroying capitalism and, thus, economic freedom and, thus, liberty. Whether or not he meant to destroy economic freedom and liberty is beside the point. There were plenty of people around at the time who tried to tell him that that's what he was doing, but he refused to listen to them.

FDR didn't succeed in completely destroying economic freedom and liberty, but he gave the socialist agenda a pretty good boost. Truman and LBJ picked up where FDR left off -- with a lot of help from Congress and "the people." The upshot is that the regulatory-welfare state has become the accepted baseline of American governance.

We will remain locked into that state until we have a Supreme Court that is willing to do what Supreme Courts have been largely unwilling to do since 1937: uphold the Constitution.

Anonymous said...

FDR did a lot of harm in the 30s, but unfortunately, the alternative was not another Harding or Coolidge. Landon got creamed in 1936. If FDR had lost populatity, someone like Huey Long or the (lower-case) communist governor of Minnesota would have taken over.

Caliban said...

" Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed under Truman, I believe."

You are correct, FDR can only be held responsible for the firebombings. Take 100,000 off his kill score and move them into the 'Truman' column. :( ::warms up to smiting Truman::

" Yup, Truman ok'ed bombing hiroshima and nagasaki even though he had fore-knowledge that Japan was going to surrender."

At the point of the atomic weapon usage it was obvious the Japanese could not fight back. The naval blockade had crippled the Japanese military, which was 100% dependant on foreign resources to function, especially oil.

" FDR did a lot of harm in the 30s, but unfortunately, the alternative was not another Harding or Coolidge."

Calvin Coolidge is my favorite president. What did he do? Nothing! :)

"There were plenty of people around at the time who tried to tell him that that's what he was doing, but he refused to listen to them."

Didn't the Supreme Court label as unconstitutional a number of his policies, yet they were implemented anyway?

"I would not think you'd think FDR is a true statist devil. "

Unless I were say, Japanese-American. Or maybe a Chinese-American for whom the government couldn't differentiate. Even many recent German and Italian immigrants were "monitored" by government agents. If that isn't the picture of 1984 I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

Thomas: "And you are totally off. FDR inveighed against "economic royalists" (i.e., capitalists) and his policies were opposed at the time by persons we would now call libertarians" -- Hey man, just because I differ in my political opinion about this matter doesn't mean I'm totally off. And yes bankers and businessmen opposed his "New Deal" but that doesn't necessarily mean they were libertarian as you seem to claim.

"The man seemed bent on destroying capitalism and, thus, economic freedom and, thus, liberty. Whether or not he meant to destroy economic freedom and liberty is beside the point." --His intent does matter. He wasn't hell bent on destroying capitalism. At the very least, FDR is responsible for getting the US out of the desperate economic state after the Depression; although what *really* got us out was WWII with all the government contract jobs boosting the economy.

"FDR didn't succeed in completely destroying economic freedom and liberty, but he gave the socialist agenda a pretty good boost." -- and not everyone thinks thats a bad thing. Sure I lean more to the right when it comes to taxes and welfare (basically economic issues), and I even think that SS should eventually be privatized, but I still think that socialist policies on some matters is good. This is why i like to vote on issues and not party affiliation.

sk

Thomas said...

sk says, "At the very least, FDR is responsible for getting the US out of the desperate economic state after the Depression; although what *really* got us out was WWII with all the government contract jobs boosting the economy." So, which was it? Well, if you knew very much about the effects of the New Deal on the economy, you'd know that FDR generally made things worse, not better. Having a war is hardly a desirable way of getting out of a depression.

Then sk says, "I lean more to the right when it comes to taxes and welfare (basically economic issues), and I even think that SS should eventually be privatized, but I still think that socialist policies on some matters is good." Again, which is it? Do you lean to the right when it comes to taxes and welfare or do you like a bit of socialism? The belief that we can have "a bit" of socialism is exactly why we have a lot of it. Most everyone wants a "little bit" for this reason or that, so in the end the political process delivers all those little bits, which add up to a very large bit.

Anonymous said...

Thomas: You are right that war isn't generally a good way to get out of depression as we saw with Iraq, but that particular war (WWII) was good for the economy. It created massive number of jobs and boosted the economy.

I'm not a libertarian so I do not think everything should be privatized. I'm a moderate Democrat who doesn't think that *all* welfare programs are good. And just like most Americans I'd like to keep more of my money and get rid of certain government programs that I think doesn't really help people be self-sufficient. And as for social security, I just don't believe that people below the age of my parents can rely on SS. And I sure as hell will take care of my own retirement which is why i say gradually privatize SS so that the blow is not as hard on those who are about to retire and are relying on SS.

My stance isn't as wishy-washy as you seem to allude. And why not "a little bit of socialism"? Show me a state that is purely libertarian that is viable.

sk

sk