President Obama’s First News Conference

I just wanted to point out an interesting tid-bit from President Obama’s first news conference he held two days ago.

President Obama in 2009

Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. Now, you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And, in fact, there are several who’ve suggested that FDR was wrong to interfere back in the New Deal. They’re fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.

James K. Glassman 2009

Despite Franklin Roosevelt’s aggressive spending, unemployment reached 25 percent in 1933, fell only to 14 percent by 1937, and was back up to 19 percent in 1939.1 In the end, the New Deal did little or nothing to resuscitate the economy. Certainly, inept monetary policies helped prolong the Great Depression, as did tax increases, constant interventions in the conduct of business, and the erection of global trade barriers, beginning with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930, more than two years before Roosevelt took office. There was a stretch of twelve years from the stock-market crash to Pearl Harbor, and, during that time, fiscal stimulus simply did not jump-start the economy (or, in Keynes’s own metaphor, awaken Sleeping Beauty).

Ben S. Bernanke in 2000

Finding an explanation for the worldwide economic collapse of the 1930’s remains a fascinating intellectual challenge.

Wikipedia 2009 – Causes of the Great Depression

The causes of the Great Depression are still a matter of active debate among economists. The specific economic events that took place during the Great Depression have been studied thoroughly: a deflation in asset and commodity prices, dramatic drops in demand and credit, and disruption of trade, ultimately resulting in widespread poverty and unemployment. However, historians lack consensus in describing the causal relationship between various events and the role of government economic policy in causing or ameliorating the Depression.

Wikipedia 2009 – The New Deal

A number of economists believe the New Deal delayed economic recovery. A 1995 survey of economic historians asked whether “Taken as a whole, government policies of the New Deal served to lengthen and deepen the Great Depression.” Of those in economics departments 27% agreed, 22% agreed ‘with provisos’ (what provisos the survey does not state) and 51% disagreed. Of those in history departments, only 27% agreed and 73% disagreed.

UCLA economists Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian are among those who believe the New Deal caused the Depression to persist longer than it would otherwise have, concluding in a study that the “New Deal labor and industrial policies did not lift the economy out of the Depression as President Roosevelt and his economic planners had hoped,” but that the “New Deal policies are an important contributing factor to the persistence of the Great Depression.” They claim that the New Deal “cartelization policies are a key factor behind the weak recovery.” They say that the “abandonment of these policies coincided with the strong economic recovery of the 1940s.” Cole and Ohanian claimed that FDR’s policies prolonged the Depression by 7 years.

Perhaps President Obama would like to set the record strait for us about the Great Depression. He could start by updating the Wikipedia article.


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