Conrad Black vs. Jim Powell: FDR's legacy





Jim Powell has returned to the charge about Franklin D. Roosevelt accusing me of trying to avoid “embarrassing questions” about the New Deal and evade the chastisement I earned by writing a biography of Roosevelt, rather than an anthology of his favorite economists.

We went around this track before, in an exchange in the Wall Street Journal five years ago, which I referred to in my National Review Online piece, to which he replied in his “Conrad Black in Fantasy Land” a few days ago. He wrote that the TVA was a mistake and that it would have been preferable to starve the farmers into urban slums, where eventually they would have had higher standards of living. I believe I am as close to a pure capitalist as Powell, and it is piquant to be accused of being a hemophiliac bleeding heart, but — as I wrote — this is an agrarian-reform plan that would have put Roosevelt in the company of Stalin and Mao Tse-tung.

Powell even inflicts upon readers the feeble sophomorism of suggesting that I think public-sector spending is more useful and stimulating to the economy than private-sector spending. A cursory glance at anything I have written about politics or economics in the last 35 years, including my biography of FDR, shows that nothing could be farther from the truth.

I must remind Powell that I wrote that Roosevelt knew little of economics, but enough to distrust most economists and to realize that half of economics is psychology. I referred to the National Industrial Recovery Act as nonsense, a hodgepodge of conflicting measures attended by a ludicrous fanfare of Blue Eagles and parades, but noted that parts of it did increase employment and raise morale. I also pointed out that Roosevelt was almost relieved when the Supreme Court threw it out. (His concern with the Court was what else it might do.)

I wrote that the New Deal, as Alan Greenspan said to me, was a respectable pass on economics, but a near-perfect score on catastrophe avoidance. The cartelism, promotion of collective bargaining, and industry codes were unfortunate. And the pre-war tax increases and the rubbish about “malefactors of great wealth” and so forth were regrettable, but Roosevelt, whose political acumen has rarely been challenged, judged them necessary to stave off Huey Long and the other fringe rabble-rousers....


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