Bring on the populists

December 31, 2008

Some predictions here

Why politicians don’t oppose TARP

December 30, 2008

As you'll see below, I've been doing a lot of New Deal reading.  From this reading, I would suggest that the answer to this question is obvious.

Under TARP, money is given to Mr Paulson to spend, with few (if any) strings attached.  Suppose you are a Congressman who opposes the bill.  Whose district do you think will get the money, yours or your fellow Congressman's who supported Mr Paulson's plan?  I'm guessing the later.

FDR did the same thing, and all the historians love him.  So why wouldn't Mr Paulson?

Review of "New Deal or Raw Deal?" by Burton W. Folsom Jr.

December 30, 2008

There was a little bit new from this book after reading this, this and this.

Mr Folsom, like the others, delights in catching FDR in lies (not difficult), making it clear that FDR’s policies did nothing to end the Depression, and warning of FDR’s ever-increasing authoritarianism. (Until the left explains why it loves FDR despite his unequaled power-grabs, I can’t take seriously any criticism they make against “imperial Presidencies” – if we’ve ever had an emperor in the Presidency, it was FDR, whom they love).

Mr Folsom has some new insights to add. FDR’s false claim that he wrote the Haitian Constitution was amusingly discussed. Mr Folsom’s book seems to trace many of the events of the New Deal through Henry Morgenthau. Mr Morgenthau seems to almost idolize FDR, but as the Depression wears on Mr Morgenthau can’t help but see Mr Roosevelt’s true character. Mr Folsom has fun quoting from Mr Morgenthau’s memoirs and revealing FDR to be almost delusional:

“Never let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” [FDR] “Which hand am I, Mr President?” Morgenthau said. “My right hand,” Roosevelt replied, “but I keep my left hand under the table.” Morgenthau added: “This is the most frank expression of the real FDR that I ever listened to.”

We get a great quote from Elliott Roosevelt, FDR’s son, “My father may have been the originator of the concept of employing the IRS as a weapon of political retribution.” The discussion of this tactic that follows is worth the read. The full discussion of the use of the massive amount of Federal money to secure re-election is also worth the read, though it is certainly well-documented by the other authors.

Unlike the others, Mr Folsom is more concerned with explaining why FDR is so popular, despite insurmountable evidence that he did nothing to end the Depression and equally insurmountable that his actions made the Depression worse. This is a great question and no answer will be satisfactory (one can’t help but think that these pro-New-Dealers are impervious to evidence) – though I think Mr Folsom’s answer is correct. Ultimately, FDR cared; he felt everyone’s pain. As the introduction to the book notes, this is ironic, since FDR’s programs “caused more human suffering and deprivation in America than any other set of ideas in the twentieth century.”

Finally, a word on the picture of FDR that emerges from these studies. These authors are all critical. Folsom quotes a friend of Roosevelt saying that FDR “knows nothing about finance, but he doesn’t know he doesn’t know.” That is a good part of the picture. The other part is of a gifted, charismatic politician. Very few of FDR’s policies helped end the Depression, but almost all of them helped him to stay in office and increase his political power. If you believe this is a coincidence, you’re an idiot. In many ways, it seems we’ve lost knowledge about the New Deal, as our thoughts have become skewed by the “official line” from “official historians.” For example, Folsom cites a poll that finds 67% of Americans believed that “the Roosevelt administration’s attitude toward business was delaying recovery.” Another finds that more than 50% believed Roosevelt’s policies may lead to dictatorship.

In the last post, I discussed the fundamental, Constitutional changes brought about by the Civil War. The same is true for this period. FDR threw out the old ideas, because he didn’t like them. He had so much money to disperse and he dispersed it so effectively that no one could stop him. The old rights, he said

“proved inadequate to assure equality in the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, in the 1932 campaign Roosevelt described a new “right to a comfortable living [i.e. a right to allow him to do whatever he wanted to do as President, since “comfortable is totally undefinable in any constrained way].” In 1944 he elaborated an Economic Bill of Rights that included “the right to a useful and remunerative job . . . The right of every family to a decent home [we’ve recently seen the logical conclusion of this “right”] . . . The right to a good education [again, the logical conclusion of reducing “good” to its present day standard, is apparent].”

Our new political world is defined by the New Deal. It is defined by the actions of a shrewd man, who used a crisis to justify, insure and increase his own power. It has been entrenched by historians and a press who were used to further his ends. Enjoy.

Review of "The Origin of the Late War" by George Lunt

December 30, 2008

In some ways, this book was review after reading this, this, this and this.

Obviously, this book is concerned with what caused the Civil War.  The author, Mr Lunt, is clearly sympathetic to the Southern side (though perhaps no more than our current popular history is sympathetic to the Northern side).  One can learn a lot from Mr Lunt, without necessarily agreeing with all his conclusions.  Mr Lunt, unlike modern historians, takes a realistic view of Reconstruction (and slavery, see my review of Roll, Jordan, Roll for more on this realistic view).  For this reason alone, the book is worth reading.  Mr Lunt blames abolitionists in the North for causing the War.  Mr Lunt's argument is persuasive, if perhaps oversimplified.

Mr Lunt goes to great lengths to show that almost no one would have supported abolition of the slaves at the beginning of the war, if that abolition was followed to its logical conclusions.  Yet, within a few years, those extremely few individuals who supported abolition got their way.  Getting to that end required the death of an enormous number of people and the destruction of massive amounts of property.  It also totally re-made the US.  Regardless of whether or not one likes the ultimate changes brought about by the Civil War, one must recognize the magnitude of the changes.  Mr Lunt believes that the Constitutional order in the US was over-thrown by force.  I think he is largely correct.  It's not hard to quote Founders suggesting a right to secede.  It is hard to argue that the original government was not a government that was heavily deferrential to the States.  Sovereignty resided at the state level before the War, and at the national level after the War.  This change is monumental – and again would probably not have found much popular support, outside of abolitionists, prior to the War.  Yet in the end the abolitionists triumphed – Mr Lunt repeatedly quotes abolitionists hostility to the Constitution.  Surely this outcome demands explanation.

These actual outcomes of the War seem to support Mr Lunt's view that the War was a war of aggression, and ultimate conquest, by the abolitionists in the North.  Unfortunately, for those who would argue that this was a good outcome, Reconstruction was a tragedy for the slaves.  By the end, they were effectively still slaves.  The remaining actual result was a dramatic change to government that favored the views of a small number.  These changes may have been totally unconstitutional – Mr Lunt has lots of fun quoting Mr Lincoln saying that certain things that Mr Lincoln ended up doing were unconstitutional, unilaterally freeing the slaves being among them.  They were certainly brought about at a high price.

I was taught that the Radical Republicans, who Lincoln was constantly fighting with, were radicalized by the War, Mr Lunt argues that they were always radical and they caused the War.  Both of these positions cannot be simultaneously correct.  Giving the timing of events – the radicals were opposing Lincoln's more moderate aims immediately – I think the nod goes to Mr Lunt.

Overall truth may be somewhere between Mr Lunt and the modern, popular version of the story.  His discussion of the Crittenden Compromise, and its rejection at the hands of the abolitionists was interesting, as is his general Southern perspective on Mr Lincoln (though I think he is much too hard on Lincoln).  Read the book for a broadening of your perspective.

Review of "Phineas Redux" by Anthony Trollope

December 30, 2008

This is the fourth book in the series and the fifth of the series that I have read (I'm now regretting reading The Prime Minister out of order – I didn't think there would be any way that I would want to read them all).

Of the five I've read, I'd say this was my least favorite.  On the plus side, we followed our main character, Mr Finn.  I suppose he must be our main character, since two of the five books revolve around.  Among the male characters in all the novels, Mr Finn is the easiest to relate to.  He is neither as consumed by his work as Plantagenet Palliser (now Duke of Omnium) nor as perfect as John Grey, nor as dastardly as the many villains, nor as cynical or worthless as many of the politicians.  I also must comment on the wonderful character of Mr Maule, who seems to embody male-ness in the 21st Century – that is to say he is totally worthless and totally harmless (almost a eunuch).  Thus, following his story is always of interest.

You may see here for the plot.  I found it particularly interesting that Mr Finn is so dependent upon women for his advancement.  Moreover, these women are no slouches – they seem to be the smartest and most successful (within the numerous constraints) characters in the books.

I don't really have much to argue against on the downside.  This novel just didn't quite catch with me to the same extent the others did.  I still thoroughly enjoyed it, just not quite as much.

I must, of course, leave you with some vintage Trollope:

The property of manliness in a man is a great possession, but perhaps there is none that is less understood,—which is more generally accorded where it does not exist, or more frequently disallowed where it prevails. There are not many who ever make up their minds as to what constitutes manliness, or even inquire within themselves upon the subject. The woman's error, occasioned by her natural desire for a master, leads her to look for a certain outward magnificence of demeanour, a pretended indifference to stings and little torments, a would-be superiority to the bread-and-butter side of life, an unreal assumption of personal grandeur. But a robe of State such as this,—however well the garment may be worn with practice,—can never be the raiment natural to a man; and men, dressing themselves in women's eyes, have consented to walk about in buckram. A composure of the eye, which has been studied, a reticence as to the little things of life, a certain slowness of speech unless the occasion call for passion, an indifference to small surroundings, these,—joined, of course, with personal bravery,—are supposed to constitute manliness. That personal bravery is required in the composition of manliness must be conceded, though, of all the ingredients needed, it is the lowest in value. But the first requirement of all must be described by a negative. Manliness is not compatible with affectation. Women's virtues, all feminine attributes, may be marred by affectation, but the virtues and the vice may co-exist. An affected man, too, may be honest, may be generous, may be pious;—but surely he cannot be manly. The self-conscious assumption of any outward manner, the striving to add,—even though it be but a tenth of a cubit to the height,—is fatal, and will at once banish the all but divine attribute. Before the man can be manly, the gifts which make him so must be there, collected by him slowly, unconsciously, as are his bones, his flesh, and his blood. They cannot be put on like a garment for the nonce,—as may a little learning. A man cannot become faithful to his friends, unsuspicious before the world, gentle with women, loving with children, considerate to his inferiors, kindly with servants, tender-hearted with all,—and at the same time be frank, of open speech, with springing eager energies,—simply because he desires it. These things, which are the attributes of manliness, must come of training on a nature not ignoble. But they are the very opposites, the antipodes, the direct antagonism, of that staring, posed, bewhiskered and bewigged deportment, that nil admirari, self-remembering assumption of manliness, that endeavour of twopence halfpenny to look as high as threepence, which, when you prod it through, has in it nothing deeper than deportment. We see the two things daily, side by side, close to each other. Let a man put his hat down, and you shall say whether he has deposited it with affectation or true nature. The natural man will probably be manly. The affected man cannot be so.


December 28, 2008

This left me speechless.  Reason has been weakly against the bailout thus far, but this throws all that out the window.  Don't miss the comments.

I’m shocked, shocked

December 28, 2008

"This does not sound like a short-term plan to stimulate the economy. It sounds like a long-term plan to stimulate bigger government."