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

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.

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