"The stock market crash of October 1929 and the Great Depression were not the same thing"

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Economic historian Amity Shlaes had an extremely valuable article in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday reminding us that "the stock market crash of October 1929 and the Great Depression were not the same thing." As she notes, it was the Depression's long duration that made things so bad. And the evidence is overwhelming that FDR's New Deal prolonged the Depression.

Roosevelt's first effort at raising wages to revive the economy, the National Recovery Administration, was declared unconstitutional. Next came the Wagner Act, which led to massive unionization. Wages increased and unemployment even dipped a bit, but productivity did not rise in commensurate fashion. This contributed to companies' struggles, as Lee Ohanian of UCLA has shown. Industrial production plunged. In 1938, John L. Lewis of the CIO attained the apogee of his power, but unemployment was again at that appalling two in 10.

The signal Washington emitted in these years was clear: Not Open for Business. A poignant moment came in August, 1937, when [former Treasury Secretary Andrew] Mellon died in Southampton, N.Y. When this star of their old firmament winked out, investors felt themselves in uncharted waters. Other negatives—rising labor costs, regulatory tightening, a doubling of reserve requirements for banks—suddenly seemed insurmountable. The market dropped from 189 in August to 120 by the next February, well below the lowest ebb in 1929.

Whole thing here. reason's interview with Shlaes here.

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  1. It was WWII that ended the Great Depression. What we need now is a president who can involve us in a globe-spanning war to alleviate our economic woes.

    And I think we all know who that candidate is:

    Draft Dick Cheney!

  2. “And the evidence is overwhelming that FDR’s New Deal prolonged the Depression.”

    What fucking loony-bin twaddle. You assholes better hope your groupy morons pony up some cash because you’re never going to make money peddling this fairytale.

  3. Lefiti, if you say it louder, it’s more true. Use all caps!

  4. Amity’s grip on causality is, shall we say, less than overwhelming. The “Roosevelt Depression” of 1938 was not due to Big John’s apogee or the winking out of poor Andrew, but rather Roosevelt’s decision to go with the “conservative” policy of cutting federal spending. It’s very true that Roosevelt failed to end the Depression, but the only policy we know of that would have ended it is massive federal spending, which did end the Depression via World War II. It’s “forgotten” by conservatives like Amity that deficit spending was anathema to conservatives back in the day. It wasn’t until Reagan took over that Republicans decided that deficits didn’t matter.

  5. Sure, a minority of economists believe that the New Deal didn’t work and may have prolonged the depression, but overwhelming evidence? That’s what’s wrong with you fucking right-wing cultists. Any evidence that suppoorts your cherished dogmas is overwhelming. Buying into your rigid fundamentalism means ignoring anything that contradicts it. Assholes.

  6. It wasn’t the car hitting me that broke my legs…. it was the curb that the car’s impact threw me into at a high rate of speed. Even then, can we really blame the curb? I mean, if it wasn’t for the momentum and the kinetic force, I’d have been fine.

  7. And fuck you Episiarch, you stupid mother fucker. Keep peddling that batshit crazy fucking bullshit. This place is a fucking lunatic asylum. Fucking morons. Fuck all of you assholes.

  8. Buying into your rigid fundamentalism means ignoring anything that contradicts it.

    And exactly how does this not apply to the dogmatic left? Fundamentalists come in all stripes, dingbat.

  9. Fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck! All caps, dude! ALL CAPS!!!

  10. Don’t forget the Smoot-Hawley protectionist trade bill!

    Or, as we’ll be calling it next year, the Reid-Pelosi bill.

  11. Lefiti, calm down bro. Obama is in the lead again. Utopia is coming.

  12. And I think we all know who that candidate is: Draft Dick Cheney

    Hey, Cheney only wanted to attack our enemies. I have also promised to attack our allies!

    It’s time to start dropping 500-lb laser-guided Hope and Change everywhere again! Yes We Can!

    I’m Barack Obama, and I approved this message.

  13. Alan’s got it.

    Underwhelming, overwhelming, same diff, right?

    Somehow the discussion of the scienceness of economics from yesterday seems apt

    I liked this discussion

    http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/10/is_economics_a_.html

  14. It’s very true that Roosevelt failed to end the Depression, but the only policy we know of that would have ended it is massive federal spending,

    Da, Comrade. It worked wonders for us.

  15. “The New Deal” is far too broad a term to be useful here. Did the wage and price controls of 1933 restrain the recovery? Yep. And then they ended. Did the WPA? Nope. The FDIC? Nope.

    There were certainly policies that didn’t work, and that were even counter-productive. That’s probably why the New Deal evolved so much over time.

  16. Welcome back, Shrike.

  17. but, but joe, it is not the particulars that matter it is the battle of ideologies.

    ;^)

  18. Go Lefiti!

    And you Reasonoids thought I was an in your face leftist…

    I shudder to say this with TAO no doubt lurking about ready to pounce on evil elitists, but I can find no mention of Amity Shales educational creds on her bio, she seems to be a financial journalist, and I hate to say this but usually very few books by journalists shake up the field of economics or provide what that field would call “overwhelming” evidence to turn accepted historical narratives on their head. Don’t get me wrong, I have not read the book, maybe it’s utterly convincing, and maybe she has a Phd from University of Idaho or something, but it’s a bit smelly…

    http://www.amityshlaes.com/bio.php

  19. It’s “forgotten” by conservatives like Amity that deficit spending was anathema to conservatives back in the day. It wasn’t until Reagan took over that Republicans decided that deficits didn’t matter.

    No. Here’s a helpful primer on conservative ideology:

    Stronger military > higher deficits.

    Lower taxes > higher deficits.

    Lower deficits > social programs.

  20. “Don’t forget the Smoot-Hawley protectionist trade bill!”

    I LOVE Smoot-Hawley, the all purpose libertarian depression/stock market crash-explainer. And it is fun to say.

    Smoot-Hawley. Smmmoooot-Hawley.

  21. The deity of the markets, the Alan Greenspan of the 1929s, was Andrew Mellon.

    Does Greenspan get to take some of the blame for the current situation. I haven’t heard people bad-mouthing him yet.

  22. Steal money from some people to give to others, and if it doesn’t seem to be doing enough, steal more. Alternatively, be in charge of the money supply, and print as much money as you need. If it doesn’t seem to be doing enough, print more. Ideally, do both. Plenty of people will beg you to save them from the inevitable crashes, and if the worst happens you’ll own all the big weapons anyway.

  23. Hooray! The left still loves me, even if economists hate me!

  24. but, but joe, it is not the particulars that matter it is the battle of ideologies.

    Well if one’s “ideology” is based on the observation that the government generally makes such mistakes more often than not and thus will likely make things worse by getting involved again, one might hope to make that point without being dismissed as a mere ideologue.

  25. MNG,

    she seems to be a financial journalist, and I hate to say this but usually very few books by journalists shake up the field of economics or provide what that field would call “overwhelming” evidence to turn accepted historical narratives on their head

    The thing is, one of the critiques of economics as a science is that it doesn’t seem to outperform common-sense ideas about economic behavior. It’s predictions are either obvious folk-psychology-based guesses or so loaded with untenable “all things being equal” assumptions that never obtain to make it resemble alchemy or string theory more than science.

    Given that, the understanding of experts is really not that much more useful in explaining things than the understanding of laymen.

    Some would argue.

  26. Does Greenspan get to take some of the blame for the current situation. I haven’t heard people bad-mouthing him yet.

    Sarcasm? His rate cuts after the dot com bubble definitely have something to do with the current situation. However, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

  27. One problem libertarians have is that people know that there was a time of relatively more laissez-faire policies and then there was this awful event (the Great Depression), then there was this massive government intervention (New Deal), and since then there has been nothing like the awful event.

    Ironically we “know” that there was this sharp turn to massive intervention in part because libertarians have and still do bitch about it all the time. So the Great Depression kind of becomes for hard core libertarians what all that stuff we know about Joseph Smith detailed on South Park is for Mormons.

  28. Roosevelt’s first effort at raising wages to revive the economy, the National Recovery Administration, was declared unconstitutional.

    You can’t say this administration learnt *nothing* from history.

  29. Steal money from some people to give to others

    That’s another Rovian attack from the failed Bush era. Let’s get past these tired scorched-earth politics of yesterday.

    We need hope and change, not negative attacks. As my Communist mentor Frank Marshall Davis used to say, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

    I’m Barack Obama, and I approved this message.

  30. I hate to say this but usually very few books by journalists shake up the field of economics or provide what that field would call “overwhelming” evidence to turn accepted historical narratives on their head.

    Is the “accepted historical narrative” that World War II brought us out of the Depression?

    I wouldn’t want to question the accuracy or usefulness of THAT.

  31. It’s very true that Roosevelt failed to end the Depression, but the only policy we know of that would have ended it is massive federal spending, which did end the Depression via World War II.

    OK, here’s the problem with that line of argument.

    As joe would tell you, there had been depressions before.

    If only massive federal spending can end a depression, how did any of those depressions end? Shouldn’t they have been eternal?

    Let’s play correlation and causation for a second. I’ll start by pointing out that the Great Depression lasted longer than any of the previous US depressions. Now I’ll point to the New Deal, which was contemporaneous with this “longer than ever before” depression. Using this “Mr. Nice Guy” approach to evidence, I have now demonstrated that the Great Depression was longer than any previous depression because of the New Deal.

  32. “Hooray! The left still loves me, even if economists hate me!”

    Uhh, you clearly don’t understand what I was getting at. I love it that libertarians can always be counted on to dig up SMOOT-HAWLEY to explain their cross and garlic, the Great Depression. It’s like DEMAND KURV!

    I doubt the tariff bill was a big hit with the left back then (but I might be wrong). Historically it was not unheard of for American business to favor tariffs.

  33. I don’t know how you prove the theorem. Since we never had another Depression that anyone worked out of. If anything, going by our one example, FDR didn’t spend enough. The only thing to go on was that huge Federal spending on WWII is what got us out of it. We might have dropped back into it at the end of the war but for the Marshall Plan. Then the Cold War…

  34. Well if one’s “ideology” is based on the observation that the government generally makes such mistakes more often than not

    Devil’s in the details.

    It takes more than an assertion that “observation” demonstrates this general trend. Governments do a lot of things…some positive, some negative. An ideological perspective might skew your view of which of the activities are important to consider…and might, perhaps, bias your observations…perhaps.

  35. The right wing were the protectionists then, FDR was a free trader (as was every Democrat up until the 1980s).

  36. I doubt the tariff bill was a big hit with the left back then (but I might be wrong).

    Buddy, you got a lot to learn about the word “protectionist.”

  37. We can all debate until we’re blue in the face as to whether or not the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression. But can’t we all agree that FDR was the original, government-cures-all elitist prick? You can have your New Deal . . . but no one will ever convince me that the man behind it was anything other than a malevolent, power-mad socialist.


  38. Does Greenspan get to take some of the blame for the current situation. I haven’t heard people bad-mouthing him yet.

    P Brooks | September 17, 2008, 1:19pm | #
    My illiterate opinion is that Alan “Git ‘cher free money here!” Greenspan should be dangling from a lamppost in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in DC. He *somehow* went from the guy who was supposed to take the punchbowl away, to the guy pouring Everclear into it.

    But that’s just me, and I don’t count.

  39. It takes more than an assertion that “observation” demonstrates this general trend.

    You gonna pay me to write a book about it?

    I don’t expect to convince you that that’s the most accurate interpretation one can take from observations of economic history and the Great Depression. Just pointing out that that’s what the libertarian position is about, not merely mindless “ideology” as you imply.

  40. P Brooks,

    Re: Greenspan

    Clearly I have been listening to the wrong people…and that explains why I hadn’t heard.

    😉

  41. their cross and garlic, the Great Depression. It’s like DEMAND KURV!

    Oh great, now I’m being compared to witchcraft.

    And leftists wonder why people say they don’t understand me.

  42. P Brooks . . . prescient and perspicacious. I have always thought it curiously ironic that the man that warned us of irrational exhuberance proceeded to exhuberantly gin up the irrationality. Alas, history is composed of such interesting novelties.

  43. i still remember my grandmother bitchin about Roosevelt and him saying, “my friends, the Jews” while campaigning for NY State Gov. However, when the boat showed up with Jewish exiles from the Holocaust; he sent the back.

    so, yeh the guy was a prick.

  44. MNG: I think some (most?) libertarians blame the great depression on the FED and the Gov. I don’t see them thinking the great depression followed from laissez-faire capitalism.

    Also if this episode turns into great depression #2 are libertarians vindicated? Being that the score would be 2-0 in Great depressions before and after the FED?

    Also, for keeping score, what is the conversion factor between depressions to great depressions? 42?

  45. not merely mindless “ideology” as you imply

    That was your inference not my implication.

    However, lumping all things “New Deal” together and blaming them for the depression requires that an ideological filter removes the positive impact of those elements that were positive while an ideological amplifier ramps up the causal force of the negative elements.

    This is not a mindless process by any means.

  46. Let’s not all forget that it was Fed Policy PLUS New Deal policy that helped make the Great Depression extra painful.

    Oh, by the way, I’m setting the price of gold to be $400 today. What’s that? That’s not how the economy works? FDR thought it was.

  47. The right wing were the protectionists then, FDR was a free trader (as was every Democrat up until the 1980s).

    Regardless of party, farmers and unions as a whole have always been protectionists.

  48. No, farmers/agricultural interests are historically free traders.

  49. William Jennings Bryan, early 20th Century avatar of rural America was against protection, remember?

  50. THE URKOBOLD GIVES LEFITI AN OVERALL SCORE OF 6.5 FOR TROLLING. HIS MOUTH-SPLUTTERING, FIST-CLENCHING PASSION TO ATTACK LIBERTARIANS RISES TO ALMOST EDWARDIAN LEVELS, WHICH IMPRESSED THE URKOBOLD SO MUCH THAT HE RATED LEFITI HIGH IN THE ARTISTIC IMPRESSION* CATEGORY. HOWEVER, LEFITI’S OBVIOUS WEAKNESSES IN TECHNICAL MERIT BROUGHT DOWN HIS TOTAL SCORE. THE URKOBOLD AWAITS LEFITI’S NEXT ENTRY WITH OPTIMISTIC TREPIDATION.

    *FROM THE GUIDE TO JUDGING COMPETITIVE TROLLING: There are seven criteria for the artistic score: harmonious composition; variation in vitriol; utilization of the caps lock and space bar; trolling in time with the thread; carriage and style; originality; and expression of the character of the trolling. For pairs competition, there is an eighth element: unison trolling.

  51. It is not important what happened. The only important thing is that it is the fault of some Republican.

  52. Amity Shlaes is a anti-regulation propaganditst. Thanks Amity for the $700 billion taxpayer bailout.

    Maybe we could have had a $700 billion tax cut instead of bailing out the negligent, fraudulent, greedy CEOs of Wall Street?

    Watch the markets work their magic!!! No one trusts each other so no one will loan cash to each other. Marvelous!

  53. It is not important what happened. The only important thing is that it is the fault of some Republican ideological enemy.

  54. Let’s play correlation and causation for a second. I’ll start by pointing out that the Great Depression lasted longer than any of the previous US depressions. Now I’ll point to the New Deal, which was contemporaneous with this “longer than ever before” depression. Using this “Mr. Nice Guy” approach to evidence, I have now demonstrated that the Great Depression was longer than any previous depression because of the New Deal.

    Since we haven’t had any panics or depressions since then, you’ve also proven the leftovers of the New Deal prevent depressions.

  55. I like how Neu Mejican and MNG have been around here for a long time and still can’t tell the difference between an ideology based on producing objectively better economic results and an ideology based on freedom and morality. They’re sitting here seemingly thinking libertarianism needs for the New Deal to have failed at bringing us out of the Great Depression in order to be valid. How silly.

  56. Our cross & garlic is the Federal Reserve, and it’s screwed up the money system, as is becoming obvious to all but the most obtuse lefties even if they disagree with libertarians on other areas. Our Founding Fathers had a bit of experience with paper money and bubbles, and we’re repeating that history now because the “major” parties refused to learn it. But I’m sure it’s all libertarians’ fault.

  57. My pet theory on the Great Depression:

    It was different in nature to all financial panics and recessions that had happened before, because, for the first time, the majority* of the people were no longer engaged in agricultural employment.

    *can’t find a good link right now. And ‘majority’ is a bit of an overstatement. The numbers are something like:
    1870 50%
    1900 40%
    1925 10%

  58. Shove it up your shitpipe, “Urkobold”. Unfunny hack blog. This is the last time I post here. Fucking neocon wingnut lunatic cuntbags.

  59. I like how Neu Mejican and MNG have been around here for a long time and still can’t tell the difference between an ideology based on producing objectively better economic results and an ideology based on freedom and morality.

    I believe you are contrasting two races of libertarians here. Libertarians do not hold a single world view and several distinct ideologies walk around with the label libertarian. I don’t believe I hung any label on the ideology behind the argument that the new deal caused the great depression. If I had I would have used an economics-based term.

    They’re sitting here seemingly thinking libertarianism needs for the New Deal to have failed at bringing us out of the Great Depression in order to be valid. How silly.

    Yes that is a silly thing you said.
    I never said that.

  60. Shove it up your shitpipe, “Urkobold”. Unfunny hack blog. This is the last time I post here. Fucking neocon wingnut lunatic cuntbags

    Good Riddance.

  61. Shove it up your shitpipe, “Urkobold”. Unfunny hack blog. This is the last time I post here. Fucking neocon wingnut lunatic cuntbags.

    It is Edward! But where are the threats to sue?

  62. I actually think libertarians who couch their arguments in terms of ethics and morality make a stronger case than those that attempt to use “objective” outcomes arguments.

    It is not a clean case with either strategy, but the ethical/moral arguments require fewer contortions.

  63. NM –
    my appologies for attributing an opinion to you that you do not hold.

    Mr. Nice Guy, however…

  64. Patrick, I will so hold you to that.

  65. [WHILE CLAPPING WITH MAD ABANDON] 7.5! LEFITI, WHILE LACKING SUBTLETY AND GRACE, OVERCOMES HIS FAILINGS WITH BRUTE FORCE.

  66. One problem libertarians have is that people know that there was a time of relatively more laissez-faire policies and then there was this awful event (the Great Depression), then there was this massive government intervention (New Deal), and since then there has been nothing like the awful event.

    One problem liberals have is that people know that there was a time of relatively more privacy and freedom and then there was this awful event (9/11), then there was this massive government intervention (The Patriot Act), and since then there has been nothing like the awful event.

  67. Epi beat me to it.

  68. I think a lot of libertarians hold both the ethical viewpoint and the objective viewpoint. Those with more developed economics education than many laymen are capable of grasping the limitations of their own field, and that is frequently factored into their findings. Journalists, not so much.

  69. Reinmoose | September 23, 2008, 12:49pm | #
    NM –
    my appologies for attributing an opinion to you that you do not hold.

    No problem.
    I can see how it came about. Fyodor’s comments provided fertile context for the chain

    NM says “ideological”
    Fyodor responds using “libertarian”
    NM responds sticking to “ideological”

    Makes it easy to link “ideological” to “libertarian”

  70. Ah, yes the conventional wisdom that WWII ended the depression. Want to get rid of unemployment? All you have to do is start a draft!

    Seriously, why not just press 10 million men between the ages of 18-40 into a chain gang, print/borrow money to build a lot of barrel factories, fill said barrels with more borrowed/printed money and then drop them into the ocean. Viola! No more depression! Look how high that GNP is!!! Who cares if we’re rationing food and basic supplies to the general public, the numbers say we’re doing great.

  71. Okay, Im only about have way thru the comments and I havent seen it pointed out yet but –

    WW2 did not get us out of the great depression. War spending cant improve the economy, it always hurts the economy, because spending on worthless things doesnt help overall production. It may have been necessary (and it was) but it was still wasteful. Both in $s and in lives.

    If the war helped the economy, why did we have shortages and rationing during the war? Thats right, because the economy was actually suffering during the war.

  72. Emotional/mental instability is amusing.

  73. World War II did end the Depression, just not in a manner that anyone wants to replicate. Remove through death 400,000 men out of the workforce, maybe another 200,000 for severe disabilities, and then return the rest to factories that have been extensively re-tooled. Combine with 5 years of deprivation of material goods, and instant economic boom.

  74. if there’s an economic historian called “Amity Shlaes”, she must be annoyed at being confused with that shocking hack who had a column in the FT once upon a time.

    There is a case for saying that some FDR policies made things worse (it’s pretty silly saying anything general about the effect of “The New Deal”, since there were so many different policies that came under this brand at different times), but I would have thought that Reason would have been able to find someone more convincing to make it.

  75. Reinmoose,

    They’re sitting here seemingly thinking libertarianism needs for the New Deal to have failed at bringing us out of the Great Depression in order to be valid.

    Utilitarians. What are you going to do with ’em?
    I recommend hanging.

  76. robc,

    Utilitarians. What are you going to do with ’em?
    I recommend hanging.

    But would that really produce the best results?

  77. I wonder what the reaction from the left would have been if Bush had proposed to add 12 new members to the Supreme Court after that Guantanamo decision didn’t go his way.

    The court packing scheme is all I need to know about the morals and integrity of those The New Deal and those proposing and implementing it. Rather then propose amendments to the Constitution to grant the government powers to do certain things, they would just increase the size of the court and appoint ‘yes’ men to those new seats. This makes him a complete scumbag in my eyes.

    Any benefits from the New Deal have been outweighed by the damage done by the excessive government power it allowed/encouraged. Those on the left who deplore Bush’s power grabs don’t seem to understand that many of them are rooted in the expansive, and previously unheard of, New Deal interpretations of the commerce, general welfare, and necessary and proper clauses.

  78. NM

    But would that really produce the best results?

    Probably not, but Im pretty sure its the morally right thing to do.

  79. It is Edward!

    Didn’t Edward have a larger vocabulary? This one seems to have spent too much time in the Navy.

  80. This makes him a complete scumbag in my eyes.

    Considering what polio had done, I would call him an incomplete scumbag.

    What? Too soon?

  81. Cartoon catch phrase of Utilitarianism:

    The right thing to do is that which produces the most happiness for the most people (maximize happiness).

    Cartoon catch phrase of libertarianism

    The right thing to do is that which produces the most freedom for the most people (maximize freedom).

    If freedom = happiness then libertarians are just utilitarians.

    If freedome does not = happiness then they are something else.

  82. One item that contributed a lot to the Great Depression in the U.S. was the even bigger depression in Europe. Europe was still recovering from the effects of WW1 and was dependent upon trade with the U.S. to keep expanding. Once the U.S. drop in buying power (in combination with Smoot-Hawley) cut off Europe’s trade with the U.S., they began to default on loans that U.S. banks had made to them.

  83. Don’t forgrt the B-29’s contribution to ending the Great Depression in WWII by destroying the industrial base that could compete with ours after the war.

  84. Seriously, why not just press 10 million men between the ages of 18-40 into a chain gang, print/borrow money to build a lot of barrel factories, fill said barrels with more borrowed/printed money and then drop them into the ocean. Viola! No more depression! Look how high that GNP is!!! Who cares if we’re rationing food and basic supplies to the general public, the numbers say we’re doing great.

    Barrel factories? This is the Twenty-first Century, dude; we can build spaceships, and shoot the money into the sun!

  85. “He opened up his eyes and he snapped out of the groove
    He saw both sides of everything and found he could not move.” — James McMurtry

    For some reason, whenever I hear that song I think of Neu Mejican. And I say that with love.

  86. Don’t get me wrong, I have not read the book

    But you are willing to impugn the argument it makes based solely on her lack of academic credentials!

    Keep hammering away at that fallacy, MNG. Someday we’ll all swallow the BS you peddle.

  87. Saint Franklin saved the country.

    Saint Woodrow was a holy man who reluctantly entered the US into the War to End All Wars.

    Saint Andrew opened up the south and west for expansion by consolidating the Indians for their own good.

  88. I would like to state unequivocally that the Mr. Nice Guy vs. The Angry Optimist argument over the validity of expert opinion has gone on long enough.

    Until one or the other can provide more meat to the issue of how expertise interacts with validity, they are just flirting with each other like characters in a sitcom that we all know will end up in bed together at the end of season 3.

  89. NM,

    There is at best a weak correlation between freedom and happiness. “Pursuit of happiness”, on the other hand….

    Another difference, utilitarians would give 1 unit of happiness to two people by taking 1 from another person. This is a fair deal to them.

    A libertarian would (IMO) never do the same for freedom. Granting 2 people freedom by making another a slave is not an acceptable trade.

  90. I’d like to maximize happiness and freedom, myself.

  91. Smoot Smoot Smoot Smoot. Hawley. Hey, it is fun!

    Well if one’s “ideology” is based on the observation that the government generally makes such mistakes more often than not and thus will likely make things worse by getting involved again, one might hope to make that point without being dismissed as a mere ideologue.

    If “one” is going to limit’s one’s commentary to rules of thumb, general cases, and vague platitudes about what is “more often than not,” and then make proclamations that needn’t be informed by actual knowledge of the spcific case, then one is going to be dismissed as a mere ideologue.

    I like how Neu Mejican and MNG have been around here for a long time and still can’t tell the difference between an ideology based on producing objectively better economic results and an ideology based on freedom and morality.

    Perhaps somebody needs to read the post again, because the argument is about economic results. As are just about every comment that follows. But yeah, it’s those mean ol’ liberals, with their insistence on staying on topic instead of talking about what you think they should be talking about instead.

    Seriously, why not just press 10 million men between the ages of 18-40 into a chain gang, print/borrow money to build a lot of barrel factories, fill said barrels with more borrowed/printed money and then drop them into the ocean. Because none of the money dropped into the ocean would circulate in the economy? As opposed to spending on munitions and military salaries? Seems a rather obvious point.

    War spending cant improve the economy, it always hurts the economy, because spending on worthless things doesnt help overall production. It can in the short term. It’s when the bills come due that the pain starts.

    If the war helped the economy, why did we have shortages and rationing during the war? Because a great deal of the increased production was sent to the war effort rather than to consumers. You aren’t seriously arguing that rationing means production didn’t increase, are you?

    Had the war not ended, and the national and international economies not return to normal growth states, the huge deficit spending that ended the depression would likely have sent us back into economic catastrophe.

    If I am starving, and then get a credit card, spending that borrowed money ends my starvation. If I then get a job and am able to pay off the credit card, it wasn’t the job that ended my starvation, it was the credit card. Nonetheless, it also wasn’t the credit card that got me back on a stable financial footing.

  92. I would like to state unequivocally that the Mr. Nice Guy vs. The Angry Optimist argument over the validity of expert opinion has gone on long enough.

    In all fairness, I’ve always said that deferring to expert opinion is preferred, HOWEVER, it is a fallacy to presume that what one person is asserting is less credible because he lacks a bunch of letters next to his name or experience in the field.

    This all started when MNG implied tarran didn’t know what he was talking about MERELY BECAUSE tarran isn’t an economic academic.

    That’s a variation of appealing to authority.

  93. robc,

    robc | September 23, 2008, 1:23pm | #
    NM,

    There is at best a weak correlation between freedom and happiness. “Pursuit of happiness”, on the other hand….

    Another difference, utilitarians would give 1 unit of happiness to two people by taking 1 from another person. This is a fair deal to them.

    A libertarian would (IMO) never do the same for freedom. Granting 2 people freedom by making another a slave is not an acceptable trade.

    The colorist to my cartoon line drawings of utilitarians and libertarians.

    Now if we can get someone to add a third dimension we’ll have the playstation 1 rendering of the two philosophies.

    ;^)

  94. Ok, here we go . . .
    government schools teach us that FDR was a god.
    government schools teach us that the New Deal brought us out of the Great Depression.
    government schools teach us that FDR was a wise and courageous President in a time of war.
    government schools are known to teach history that is both biased and fallacious.
    ergo
    FDR was not a god.
    The New Deal sucked.
    FDR was not a heroic war leader – he sold out half of the world to Uncle Joe at Yalta.
    Never trust government peddled propaganda.

  95. Because none of the money dropped into the ocean would circulate in the economy? As opposed to spending on munitions and military salaries? Seems a rather obvious point.

    Uh, except all that money for building the barrel factories in the first place. That’s why that was part of the equation in the first place. And once you build the munitions, it hardly matters whether you shoot them or drop them into the ocean as it pertains to the economy, right? Seems a rather obvious point.

  96. make money peddling this fairytale.

    Never heard of the “Roosevelt Recession” eh?

  97. Right, except for the tiny fraction of the spending that would to the production of barrels, distinct from the value of the money dropped in the ocean.

    Which, it is rather obvious, is going to be a much smaller % of the total value spent.

    Printing money and dropping it in the ocean doesn’t put any of that money into circulation. Spending it instead, even on bombs, does put that much value back into circulation.

    Barrels = jeeps.

    Money = everythinig else bought for World War II.

    You certainly have the right handle, though.

  98. And fuck you Episiarch, you stupid mother fucker. Keep peddling that batshit crazy fucking bullshit. This place is a fucking lunatic asylum. Fucking morons. Fuck all of you assholes.

    I’m convinced.

  99. Stretch,

    Don’t forget about the connected insiders, driving the boats, who know where the money was dropped . . .

  100. The argument you should be making, Stretch, is that the money put into circulation via the war effort didn’t come from thin air, and eventually had to be paid back. From this, you could argue that the benefit to the economy was outweighed by the cost of having to pay it back, since a good portion of that value literally went up in smoke, where it would have been spent, in the 1950s, on productive purposes.

    You’d still be wrong, though, because the social utility of moving from a depressionary state to a growing economy outweighs the utility of bumping up a growing economy by the same amount. But at least that’s a judgement call.

  101. Because a great deal of the increased production was sent to the war effort rather than to consumers. You aren’t seriously arguing that rationing means production didn’t increase, are you?

    No, Joe, of course not. Only that if a production increase doesn’t actually produce anything for the people it can’t rightly be considered as a blanket “good” for the economy.

    As I said, the numbers looks great, but so what? If I couldn’t afford meat yesterday because of the depression and a can’t afford meat today because of price controls and rationing, depsite the fact that my factory has switched over to building bombs, has there really been any benefit?

  102. no matter how you spin it this is just the broken windows theory which has been proven incorrect (maybe).

    Keynesians vs Rothbardians round #4779. FIGHT!

    wikipedia

  103. Perhaps somebody needs to read the post again, because the argument is about economic results.

    Yes, I recognize that quite well. Somewhere along the line libertarians were equated with the great New Deal deniers on the basis of effect, when in reality, libertarianism has nothing to do with economic effect. You can ask Reason why it’s posted in an economic effect sort of way, and as I said earlier, many of us also happen to think that economic liberty leads to better results, but that’s seperate from libertarianism.

  104. So what if Hoppe over at Mises.org gives a class comparing the USA and Nazi Germany Recoveries from The Depression. So what if people like Jim Powell write Economic Histories that show I prolonged the Great Depression. I ended prohibition and for that… you owe me your allegiance as your Emperor.

    Sincerely,

    FDR

    PS

    Uncle Joe says Wazzz Up Bitches!

  105. Stretch,

    A fair point about increased production not helping the real economy if most of it is rationed, but consider: when rationing ended, we had production all ramped up, and the standard of living spiked through the roof in very short order. It is highly unlikely that production would have been at such a level absent the spending on the war effort.

    Might it be said that World War Two helped the economy, but the effects were only felt after we went back to normal economic footing?

    adrian, it isn’t the broken windows theory, because none of the spending on the war effort was going towards things that had been previously destroyed for the purpose of justifying that spending.

  106. joe, everything spent to cause destruction can be seen as unproductive.

    What you say about productivity could be true though but that is different. We don’t need war or government spending for that, just throw everyone in jail who doesn’t work 16 hours a day. GDP would surely increase. Also wages could be halved to make us more competitive with the rest of the world.

  107. You’d still be wrong, though, because the social utility of moving from a depressionary state to a growing economy outweighs the utility of bumping up a growing economy by the same amount. But at least that’s a judgement call.

    Except that we were already heading in that direction before the war started, Joe. Unemployment was at it’s lowest since the depression began when we got into WWII Then comes the war which forces people to deal with privation for another 4-5 years, while borrowing heavily on the future and preventing any sort of rational, bottom-up improvement in the lives of ordinary people. As soon as the war is over, and the government stops all the command/control nonsense, the economy booms and the population actually receives the benefit.

    You can certainly make the point that WWII was fantastic for infrastructure, and in that way aided the post-war economy. But that assumes that given an already recovering economy neither private citizens nor the government would have spent that money more rationally or efficiently on other improvements without the war.

    Look, if the government can spend it’s way out of depression through military actions, then it can do it without the focus on the military, right? Then why didn’t the New Deal work sooner? Why was war necessary for the economy at all?

    Your credit card analogy makes some sense, but it’s limited. The most the government can productively do is to borrow some money to make sure people don’t starve. Anything more, including many of the New Deal programs and the bulk of WWII spending, are ultimately counter-productive not only in the long-term when the bill comes due, but also in the short term when information about potential productivity of any given decision is distorted by interference.

  108. adrian,

    joe, everything spent to cause destruction can be seen as unproductive. I get that. My point is that the broken windows theory doesn’t quite describe this. We didn’t break anything in order to add those ships and rifles to our asset sheet.

    Now, I agree with you that a great deal of the money that was spent (and later needed to be paid back) went literally up in smoke – and not just up in smoke itself, but destroying a lot more things of value along the way.

    Still, before 1946, that huge spending improved the economy – because the bill didn’t come due yet. When it did come due (in the form of paying down the debt, and in the form of the Marshall Plan and private investement necessary to rebuild what was destroyed), it was really expensive, almost certainly a larger amount than the economic value added to the economy by the spending. But by then, we were out of the depression and into a strong growth period, so paying $2X didn’t hurt as much as the benefit of receiving $X a few years earlier.

  109. adrian, it isn’t the broken windows theory, because none of the spending on the war effort was going towards things that had been previously destroyed for the purpose of justifying that spending.

    Well, if the broken window fallacy is simply meant to illustrate the larger point of opportunity cost, war spending is a perfect example of that.

  110. No,

    Lost value is LOST.
    A healthy economy is not about how many people are working, but about productivity.

    Production that is to be destroyed is misallocated capital.

    The market exists to satisfy our requirements and desires for living. Most people do not work for that satisfaction it brings them…particularly in the case of physical labor.

    Just as I don’t mop floors and wash dishes for the fun of it, but for the result of clean floors and dishes. If I could have the result without the labor, then that is how I would have it.

    The misperception seems to be that the purpose of jobs is for the distribution of wealth.

    The purpose of jobs is the creation of wealth.

    If we could create the wealth with, say robots, then most of us would be jobless…in that we would no longer labor to satisfy our requirements for living.

    Therefore, war does not create wealth to satisfy our requirements for living. War may be necessitated in order to defend ourselves, but it also means we must surrender some portion of our wealth to war making and not toward satisfying our requirements for living. Thus, was may mean that we will eat less, recreate less, spend less, etc.

    But war does not provide any economic benefit.
    Hence, the war did not end the depression. If anything, it will have had some negative impact on the recovery that always comes after depressions.

    Visit mises.org and read up on U.S. financial history and “The Great Depression”…Rothbard.

  111. Stretch,

    Let me put this together: Except that we were already heading in that direction before the war started, Joe…As soon as the war is over, and the government stops all the command/control nonsense, the economy booms and the population actually receives the benefit.

    So what you’re saying is that, at the beginning of the war, we were in a Depression level economic circumstance (is “the lowest level of unemployment since the Depression began” sort of like “the most hygenic hooker in East St. Louis?), while at the end of the war, our economy was booming. Obviously, the economy grew, at least numerically, over the course of the war. Yes, it was debt-fueled growth and the piper would later have to be paid, but still, the economy grew during that period, moving from depression to boom. Recall, there was no recession at the end of the war – we were in a boom during the war, too, in numerical terms, and the post-war boom was a continuation of that, not something that began after the war ended. Getting off a war footing didn’t coincide with a change in GDP growth; it just changed who enjoyed the fruits of that growth.

    Look, if the government can spend it’s way out of depression through military actions, then it can do it without the focus on the military, right? Then why didn’t the New Deal work sooner? 1. The War involved a great deal more spending. 2. Time: we were several years further removed from the crash and cascading economic failures it precipitated. The pig had almost a whole additional decade to work its way through the python. The same amount of spending at the same time on productive, non-military ends would almost certainly have done even more, though, I can agree with that.

    In general, I’m not much of a Keyensian. I pretty much agree with your statement about government helping people through hard times, rather than trying to end them. The Great Depression was a unique event, though, and I’m not confident that it would have ended as soon on its own. It wasn’t just the sucky part of a business cycle.

  112. Still, before 1946, that huge spending improved the economy

    This is the Keynesian perspective.
    Spending does not improve the economy.
    Spending may be a sign of an improving economy.

    Savings and investment in productivity are what improve an economy. That is, if we mean by an improving economy, one that is growing relative to the population.

  113. Stretch,

    Well, if the broken window fallacy is simply meant to illustrate the larger point of opportunity cost, war spending is a perfect example of that. You mean we might have gone that deeply into debt on other stuff?

    😉

    I understand what you’re saying, but there’s a very important element to the broken windows fallacy – “we” break the windows for the purpose of spending the money to replace them. In this case, we didn’t break the windows. We bought a lot of extra windows, because someone out of our control was going around breaking them.

    Overall, though, I can agree that the economic benefits, in raw dollar terms, were less than the costs. I’m saying that there are other considerations, most importantly the fact that the benefit was received at a time of desperation, while the cost could be paid off during a time of plenty, making the true benefit more important than the true cost.

    When I’m hungry and broke, the good a dollar does me exceeds the harm done by dropping two dollars during a time of plenty – even though, I agree, one is less than two.

  114. This thread is now officially belungafied. I had to create a word to describe it. It’s belungafied.

  115. But war does not provide any economic benefit.
    Hence, the war did not end the depression.

    This is the Keynesian perspective.
    Spending does not improve the economy.

    You’re both ignoring the time shifting here. Because the benefit and cost happened almost a decade apart, and the benefits accrued during a depression while the costs were paind during a boom, both “World War 2 ended the depression” AND “World War 2 was a net loss to the economy” can be true.

  116. Savings and investment in productivity are what improve an economy.

    This is the key to why the depression was prolonged. Actions by government, including the FED, signaled potential investors to refrain from investing in productive activity.

    The impact of Smoot-Hawley was to restrict potential markets.

    Politicians (like FDR) were making signals of possible nationalization of industries.

    The FED kept a tight money supply.

    Federal policies were aimed at keeping prices high for the benefit of agricultural and dairy industries, while many were out of work and could not afford the high prices, and much produce was literally destroyed.

  117. Correlation is not causation.

    Several things helped end the depression. Among them, the FED loosened up on the money supply, Smoot-Hawley ended, and the threat of nationalization ended.

    Investment in production returned.

  118. Back then, we got the New Deal. This time, we get the Raw Deal.

  119. joe,

    We didn’t break anything in order to add those ships and rifles to our asset sheet.

    Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki beg to differ.

    Yeah, yeah, it isnt the “classic” broken windows theory, but show some flexibility.

  120. joe,

    The Great Depression was a unique event, though, and I’m not confident that it would have ended as soon on its own. It wasn’t just the sucky part of a business cycle.

    I think this is where you and I disagree. It was, originally, just the sucky part of the business cycle, a little suckier than most, admittedly. However, the policies meantt to “fix” it extended it, instead of allowing the business cycle to turn on its own.

    We were coming out of it when the war hit, which was also a down time productivity-wise (measured as total production – war production — war production being a “waste”). After the war we boomed, but that was a result of the business cycle being on an upswing that had mostly been hidden by the war. If all that war production had gone to make TVs and Autos and etc instead, imagine how rich people would have been by the 1950s?

  121. joe,

    I understand what you’re saying, but there’s a very important element to the broken windows fallacy – “we” break the windows for the purpose of spending the money to replace them. In this case, we didn’t break the windows. We bought a lot of extra windows, because someone out of our control was going around breaking them.

    In the original broken windows parable, its some neighborhood kid breaking them, not “we”. In other words, someone out of our control. The “we” was added on as an extension of the logic.

  122. Wikipedia:

    “The end of the depression in the U.S. is associated with the onset of the war economy of World War II, beginning around 1939.”

    But the U.S. did not get into WWII until 1941 and is was after the attack on Pearl Harbor that the economy was mobilized for war production.

    I’m wondering how the depression was ended by a war economy that began two years later.

  123. First line of parable, in english:

    Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son happened to break a pane of glass?

  124. The post-war boom had, as someone above noted, a lot more to do with the many willing consumers in the world living in nations with destroyed industrial capacity than with us gearing up for the war. If the U.S. had sat out the war and the same result had occurred (probably unlikely, but this is just for example), we could have just as easily ramped up our industrial capacity to serve all of that demand at the end of the war.

  125. The FED kept a tight money supply.

    Federal policies were aimed at keeping prices high for the benefit of agricultural and dairy industries, while many were out of work and could not afford the high prices, and much produce was literally destroyed.

    I believe this is Milton Friedman’s general opinion. But what does he know about economics?

  126. robc,

    Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki beg to differ.

    Those were never on our asset sheet, so we (the United States) was never breaking windows, nor required to pay for them.

    The “windows” we “replaced” were actually the purchase of new goods, that didn’t replace anything. We did not take anything of value that we possessed and break it.

    It was, originally, just the sucky part of the business cycle, a little suckier than most, admittedly. Except it wasn’t. If the stock market had dropped and investors had lost their money, that would been just a recession, but because of the vast over-leveraging, that crash wiped out value dispersed throughout the economy. It wasn’t just a case of there being less value because the total value of the stock market went down, but it ripped out infrastructure.

    We were coming out of it when the war hit, which was also a down time productivity-wise (measured as total production – war production — war production being a “waste”). War production is not entirely a waste. Do you actually think that zero of the borrowed dollars used to run the munitions plants and pay military personnel circulated through the economy? That’s nuts. Military spending is inefficient in providing stimulus, but it still provides a great deal.

    If all that war production had gone to make TVs and Autos and etc instead, imagine how rich people would have been by the 1950s? I agree, if that debt spending had gone to things less likely to go up in smoke, the same amount of spending would have had even more of a stimulatory effect.

  127. Sam Grove,

    FDR began ramping up military spending well before 1941, in anticipation of our involvement. Remember lend-lease?

  128. War spending, robc, is a waste, in the sense that the money spent minus the taxes collected minus the value destroyed in the war is going to produce a negative number. I don’t disagree at all.

    However, in 1941 and 1945, all that was going on in our economy was the money being spent. It was deficit spending, so the taxes were deferred, and we experiences very little loss of value.*

    Except for, obviously, the horrible cost in human lives, but since we don’t count the value of the people as an asset when measuring national wealth, we don’t subtract the monetary value of those lives from GDP.

    Which is a big reason why GDP isn’t the most important thing, but it’s how we measure the economy.

  129. But the U.S. did not get into WWII until 1941 and is was after the attack on Pearl Harbor that the economy was mobilized for war production.

    Lend Lease. We made 2/3 of the Soviets’ trucks.

    We were coming out of it when the war hit, which was also a down time productivity-wise (measured as total production – war production — war production being a “waste”).

    Depends partly where the bombs fall. If my country makes bombs and they all fall on your country and then you buy our stuff to fix it, that’s good for my country’s economy. It’s like the kid in the story is a shill for the glassmaker. Overall, of course, it’s bad, which may be one reason why Europe is still fairly poor compared to the U.S.

    The post-war boom had, as someone above noted, a lot more to do with the many willing consumers in the world living in nations with destroyed industrial capacity than with us gearing up for the war.

    That, and GATT.

  130. joe,

    While we dont count human lives as assets DIRECTLY, any of our boys who died on Omaha Beach wasnt producing any goods in 1948.

    There was an indirect loss in GDP in the late 40s onward due to all the guys who didnt come home.

    We did not take anything of value that we possessed and break it.

    There were lots of natural resources that ended up on the bottom of the ocean. All the labor that went into turning iron into planes and ships went down with them. Thats a lot of “broken windows”.

    Heck, every bullet fired was one not fired at a deer of used to add happiness to a target shooters life.

  131. War spending, robc, is a waste, in the sense that the money spent minus the taxes collected minus the value destroyed in the war is going to produce a negative number. I don’t disagree at all.

    No, it’s a waste even if nothing is destroyed, because it’s an unproductive use of assets. It’s like making a bunch of unneeded windows.

    Of course, in practical terms there’s value in deterring a threat.

  132. WABR,

    Of course, in practical terms there’s value in deterring a threat.

    Absolutely. WW2 had to be done, the price had to be paid. But, lets not also act like it was a positive for the economy, it was a big negative.

    I was going to make the analogy the other day on a thread in response to joe making the comment that while allowing all these companies to fail would have been the way to go without the cascading effect (I dont remember your exact argument joe, so if I got it wrong, its just my memory) that is was, to me, sort of like WW2. I think we have to take the economic hit now. Yes, it will be very, very, very, very bad to let a big chunk of our financial sector collapse. However, its a sacrifice Im willing to make for the better good of America, and its a small one compared to the guys who charged onto the beaches at Normandy.

    It would have been better/cheaper ($s and lives) to do something about Hitler earlier. It would have been better/cheaper to do something about out financial situation earlier. Now, we just have to deal with the situation we are in and do what is right, even if it hurts real bad.

  133. If my country makes bombs and they all fall on your country and then you buy our stuff to fix it, that’s good for my country’s economy.

    No, it is not. It is good for the bombing country’s productivity numbers relative to the bombed country’s productivity numbers. But the consumers of the bombing country themselves — the end purpose, after all, of the economy — are worse off than if the bombing didn’t happen. Not only was wealth that would be better spent supplying their demands spent instead on products destined to be destroyed, but the consumers no longer have the ability to buy things from the bombed country.

    Would the US be better off today if Europe had no industrial capacity? Of course not. The fact that Europe can produce things along with the US means that we can each concentrate on our respective comparative advantages and both be better off.

    Supplying the devastated nations of the world is not the first best case. It is, to be sure, the second best case — the worst case of course is being the devastated nation itself.

  134. The market dropped from 189 in August to 120 by the next February, well below the lowest ebb in 1929.

    On the other hand, 120 is about triple what it fell to in 1932-3, so there was some recovery. Industrial production was up considerably as well.

  135. “I hate to say this but usually very few books by journalists shake up the field of economics or provide what that field would call “overwhelming” evidence to turn accepted historical narratives on their head.”

    That’s what I wrote TAO. Later I said, hey, maybe this is the rare exception, but not having time to read every book or article in the world I’m not exactly going to change the well accepted historical consensus on the New Deal and the Great Depression because “journalist Amity Shales has a book that provides overwhelming evidence that black is white.”

    Now, where is the fallacy in that, logical or empirical?

    NM
    I made my case about deference to experts in the debate with Tarran a few nights ago. I stand by what I said there.

  136. And NM this actually goes back to TAO having his period early because I made a generalization about members of the Assemblies of God denomination (that they are fundies).

  137. Dang, lefiti melts down and I missed it. Oh well. Kudos to the Urkobold.

    Neu,

    Regarding Greenspan, McCain and deregulation:
    http://tinyurl.com/4jrwvx

  138. While some New Deal programs were relatively better than others (and many were so unbelievable that something like that would happen in this country as opposed to Stalin’s USSR)that, one must remember that the New Deal was not a well thought out, intellectually coherent plan. It was the intellectual equilvalent of firing a shotgun at the problem of the Depression, fire enough projectiles (regulations and spending programs) at the target and some of them are bound to hit and do some good. This approach was part of why the New Deal failed in practical terms (but succeeded in propaganda terms). The Roosevelt adminstration kept changing the rules so often and so radically that businesses were never able to get a sure enough undestanding of the situation to do business with any confidence. The problem with the New Deal was not simply the policies it promoted but the whole atmosphere of uncertainty it fostered.

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