Everybody’s talking new New Deal these days - and, predictably, the FDR-haters are out in force, with all the usual claims about FDR having actually made the Great Depression worse.
These rightwing FDR-haters also seem to think that the General Theory written by Lord Keynes is one of the most evil books of all time. Paul notes, however, that real GDP rose impressively relative to potential GDP from 1933 to 1941. But wasn’t there a recession in 1938? Paul continues:
you might say that the incomplete recovery shows that “pump-priming”, Keynesian fiscal policy doesn’t work. Except that the New Deal didn’t pursue Keynesian policies. Properly measured, that is, by using the cyclically adjusted deficit, fiscal policy was only modestly expansionary, at least compared with the depth of the slump.
Today Paul adds this:
there’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it’s important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans. That said, F.D.R. did not, in fact, manage to engineer a full economic recovery during his first two terms. This failure is often cited as evidence against Keynesian economics, which says that increased public spending can get a stalled economy moving. But the definitive study of fiscal policy in the ’30s, by the M.I.T. economist E. Cary Brown, reached a very different conclusion: fiscal stimulus was unsuccessful “not because it does not work, but because it was not tried.” ... F.D.R. wasn’t just reluctant to pursue an all-out fiscal expansion - he was eager to return to conservative budget principles. That eagerness almost destroyed his legacy. After winning a smashing election victory in 1936, the Roosevelt administration cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits and led to a major defeat in the 1938 midterm elections. What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs.
In other words, that 1938 recession cited by rightwingers as evidence that fiscal stimulus is bad, bad is actually evidence that we should not turn to fiscal discipline just now. Let’s just hope the 2009 fiscal stimulus package does not come at the point of a gun – just as another idiotic invasion of a Middle East nation.