Rough Ridin' on Economic Policy


Over at the National Review, historian Michael Knox Beran offers a tart rejoinder to those contemporary politicians who would offer Teddy Roosevelt as their role model. Some snippets:

The Hepburn Act of 1906, for which he worked lustily, strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission's grip on the railways ? a step that led eventually to the dilapidation of the railroads and to Amtrak.

As for the 1906 Food and Drug Act, which established the FDA, its principal beneficiaries (so Milton and Rose Friedman contend in Free to Choose) were the meat-packers, who were glad to have taxpayer-subsidized help in ensuring the quality of their cattle.

Roosevelt's dance with the command economy culminated in his "New Nationalism" manifesto. In the suitably visionary precincts of the John Brown Cemetery in Osawatomie, Kansas, on a hot day in August 1910, the ex-president mounted the tripod and lamented, in lugubrious and apocalyptic tones, the "absence of effective state" in America. He called for a paternalist form of government that would "control the mighty commercial forces" of the Republic. […]

Roosevelt argued that laissez-faire economics had been superseded by a new, more efficient gospel of administrative supremacy. Edmund Morris, who in Theodore Rex was manifestly hypnotized by his hero's sound and fury, argued that "the outdated system of laissez-faire … was accelerating out of control." So, at any rate, Roosevelt believed. Rather than use government to promote freer, more competitive markets, he used it to promote government itself. The state, not the market place, was his ideal.

Five years ago in reason, Michael McMenamin made the case for T.R.'s foreign policy record being one of admirable restraint.