This book is sort of a prequel to this one. Squire is written before the end of FDR's second term.
I think Flynn actually liked FDR-the-campaigner and he feels betray by FDR-the-President.
Thus we may summarize the program that Governor Roosevelt offered to the people as his New Deal as follows:
That he would put an end to government spending and above all to government deficits, particularly government borrowing from the banks; and would revise and reform the tariff. These two things were the chief obstacles to recovery. That he would adopt an allotment plan for the farmers, but that this would cost the government no money, would be self-sustaining, would be centralized in the Department of Agriculture, no new agencies would be created—on the contrary, the Department of Agriculture would be subjected to great economies by the reduction of its functions and its personnel.
That he would put an end to government support of the excessive railroad debts and would force the railroads to scale down their indebtedness. That in the domain of power he would recognize the permanence of private capital and ownership as against public ownership as the normal mode of operating utilities, but favored government development of water-power sites by states and the Federal government, which was Al Smith's plan. He added to this, however, that while he favored private distribution, the government reserved the right to step in to force equitable rates—to provide a yardstick.
That on the matter of relief he was opposed to a dole and on the question of spending for recovery he opposed that as a stopgap but was willing to issue bonds for public works that were self-sustaining—which was only another way of saying he believed in what Hoover believed in: self-liquidating projects. He declared himself against all forms of regimentation, regimentation by powerful individuals and "by the government of the United States itself," and, above all, all regulation and legislation by "master minds." He denounced monopoly, the merger of competitive business into monopolies, and demanded a strict and impartial enforcement of the anti-trust laws. He was against the for the protection of states' rights and "the sacred and time-honored American principle of the separation of the judicial, legislative and executive departments."
This is a perfect summary of the exact opposite of what FDR actually did as President. The bulk of this short book attempts to explain how this happened. Flynn's answer is not that FDR was a very smart person thoughtfully reacting to changing circumstances. In part, he argues everyone should have seen a switch coming:
It is a singular feature of his [FDR's] career that his first administrative post [as Assistant Secretary of the Navy] was one that involved the expenditure of countless hundreds of millions and under circumstances that suspended all the normal and necessary restraints and cautions. Money was no object alongside of victory. And in the Navy Department, under his wing of it certainly, money was no object. In a speech later in the Brooklyn Academy of Music he told with a good deal of satisfaction how he had thrown money around during the war. On another occasion he boasted that he had paid no attention to rules, regulations and laws—that he had broken enough laws to be put in jail for 999 years. It is a fact of importance that in the shaping of his public career his first experience in administration should have been under circumstances where ordinary prudence, the rules of the department, the normal scrutinies of business and the very laws themselves could be daily thrown into the wastebasket. It made a profound impression upon his habits of thought and his methods of doing things.
But the bulk of the answer is that FDR didn't really believe anything. He just wanted to make people like him:
This story is related by Moley, who, next to Howe, was the closest man to Roosevelt. Had it not come from so authoritative a source it would be almost incredible. No man knew Roosevelt so well as Louis Howe, and this incident means that Howe knew Roosevelt well enough to believe that he could get him to deliver a speech accepting the nomination for the presidency of the United States without even reading it. Howe handed the speech to Roosevelt on the platform as he was being introduced to the convention. Roosevelt had in his hand the Moley speech and the Howe speech. It was a difficult moment for him. Which should he deliver? He had read and corrected the Moley speech. He had not even seen the Howe speech. He was about to accept a call to lead the Democratic party with that speech. He did a thoroughly characteristic Roosevelt thing. He began to read. Moley, sitting in the convention, was horrified to hear strange sentences that were not in the speech he had written. Roosevelt was reading the Howe speech. Having read almost the whole of its first page, he then went on with the Moley speech. From all this we may begin to form a fairly definite picture of the man who became President of the UnitedStates and upon whose mind poured all the difficult problems of meeting one of the great economic crises in our history.
So he responded to business interests by giving them everything they wanted:
What they produced was a plan for self-rule in industry by trade associations under supervision of a government bureau called the National Recovery Administration—the NRA. It specifically suspended the anti-trust laws, thus successfully completing a war that business had waged for fifty years. It was the one thing that appealed most strongly to Roosevelt's imagination. He imagined he had been the instrument of creating a revolution in American industry. This was his idea of a planned economy. It was a plan for organizing each industry under a code. The code was to be drawn by the industry and submitted to the NRA, of which General Johnson became the head. Labor and consumers had nothing to do with drawing the codes. They could appear before the administrator and object to any part of a code before it was approved, but the codes were drawn by the employer associations.
And what better way to make people like you than by giving them cash, especially borrowed cash:
IN VIEW OF these astonishing failures, what was the secret of the President's immense popularity and his devastating defeat of the Republicans in 1936? The answer, of course, is extremely simple. Since March 4, 1933, Mr Roosevelt has had in his hands, to be spent almost at his own will, twenty-two billions of dollars for recovery and relief. This does not include the money spent to run the government—all the many departments with the army and the navy. This is money, over and above all the expenses of the government, that Congress put into his hands to spend
Of course it didn't work:
Seven years after he took office there are eleven million unemployed, private investment is dead, the farm problem is precisely where he found it. He put through some social reforms that the country was yelling for. But these social reforms have to be almost completely overhauled. As for recovery—the President has not one plan. The cost of all this has been twenty-two billion dollars, all yet to be paid.
These are the actions of weak men in power and they have been the reactions of weak men in power from time immemorial:
Any government can produce a rise in business and keep it going indefinitely by pumping billion after billion into business—giving it first to the poor who will spend it with the businessman. There is no trick in this. There is nothing new about it. It is one of the oldest devices of rulers in trouble in history. It was done by Pericles in Athens before Christ, by Caesar and Augustus. It was done by kings all through the modern era; on a vast scale by Louis XIV and Louis XV. It is what has been done by Mussolini, Hitler, dictators, kings, democratic premiers everywhere.
Much of Flynn's commentary reads like modern commentary on financial crisis. Yet despite Flynn's fears, the nation eventually emerged from the Great Depression. Does this mean that those of us who are pessimistic should re-thing our stance? I don't necessarily think so. I think it argues that we should be careful not to underestimate the fragility of the American economic system. However, the idea that we can experiment with it infinitely without ever destroying it, is still just as flawed. Further, just because the massive federal borrowings that have taken place to-date have not ruined the system, doesn't mean that next round of ever-larger borrowings won't bring it down. Since the sums go up every time we borrow, eventually we'll hit the amount that is too much.
I do think we must pay attention to Flynn's correct prediction that FDR would lead the country to war, despite the overwhelming unpopularity of that position at the time Flynn was writing. I think some (manufactured) war may be in our future.