New Deal or Raw Deal?: How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America

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Overview

A sharply critical new look at Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency reveals government policies that hindered economic recovery from the Great Depression — and are still hurting America today.

In this shocking and groundbreaking new book, economic historian Burton W. Folsom exposes the idyllic legend of Franklin D. Roosevelt as a myth of epic proportions. With questionable moral character and a vendetta against the business elite, Roosevelt created New Deal programs marked by ...

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New Deal or Raw Deal?: How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America

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Overview

A sharply critical new look at Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency reveals government policies that hindered economic recovery from the Great Depression — and are still hurting America today.

In this shocking and groundbreaking new book, economic historian Burton W. Folsom exposes the idyllic legend of Franklin D. Roosevelt as a myth of epic proportions. With questionable moral character and a vendetta against the business elite, Roosevelt created New Deal programs marked by inconsistent planning, wasteful spending, and opportunity for political gain — ultimately elevating public opinion of his administration but falling flat in achieving the economic revitalization that America so desperately needed from the Great Depression. Folsom takes a critical, revisionist look at Roosevelt's presidency, his economic policies, and his personal life.

Elected in 1932 on a buoyant tide of promises to balance the increasingly uncontrollable national budget and reduce the catastrophic unemployment rate, the charismatic thirty-second president not only neglected to pursue those goals, he made dramatic changes to federal programming that directly contradicted his campaign promises. Price fixing, court packing, regressive taxes, and patronism were all hidden inside the alphabet soup of his popular New Deal, putting a financial strain on the already suffering lower classes and discouraging the upper classes from taking business risks that potentially could have jostled national cash flow from dormancy. Many government programs that are widely used today have their seeds in the New Deal. Farm subsidies, minimum wage, and welfare, among others, all stifle economic growth — encouraging decreased productivity and exacerbating unemployment.

Roosevelt's imperious approach to the presidency changed American politics forever, and as he manipulated public opinion, American citizens became unwitting accomplices to the stilted economic growth of the 1930s. More than sixty years after FDR died in office, we still struggle with the damaging repercussions of his legacy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I have been proud to support research for this book." — William F. Buckley, Jr.

"History books and politicians in both parties sing the praises for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency and its measures to get America out of the Great Depression. What goes unappreciated is the fact that many of those measures exacerbated and extended the economic downturn of the 1930s. New Deal or Raw Deal? is a careful documentation and analysis of those measures that allows us to reach only one conclusion: While President Roosevelt was a great man in some respects, his economic policy was a disaster. What's worse is that public ignorance of those policy failures has lent support for similar policies in later years. Professor Burt Folsom has produced a highly readable book and has done a yeoman's job in exposing the New Deal." — Walter E. Williams, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, George Mason University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416592372
  • Publisher: Threshold Editions
  • Publication date: 11/17/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 195,368
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Burton W. Folsom, Jr., Ph.D., a professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan, is the author of several books. A regular columnist for The Freeman, he has also written for The Wall Street Journal, American Spectator, Policy Review, and Human Events.

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Read an Excerpt

1

THE MAKING OF THE MYTH:

FDR AND THE NEW DEAL

On May 9, 1939, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the secretary of the treasury and one of the most powerful men in America, had a startling confession to make. He made this remarkable admission before the influential Democrats who ran the House Ways and Means Committee. As he bared his soul before his fellow Democrats, Morgenthau may have pondered the irony of his situation.

Here he was — a major cabinet head, a man of great authority. The source of his power, of course, was his intimate friendship with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Morgenthau was the president's longtime neighbor, close confidant, and — would be for over a decade — his loyal secretary of the treasury. Few men knew the president better, talked with him more, or defended him more faithfully. Eleanor Roosevelt once said Morgenthau was one of only two men who could tell her husband "categorically" that he was wrong and get away with it. Roosevelt and Morgenthau liked to banter back and forth at cabinet meetings, pass each other secret notes, meet regularly for lunch, and talk frequently on the phone. Morgenthau cherished a photo of himself and the president in a car, side by side, friends forever, with Roosevelt's inscription: "To Henry," it read, "from one of two of a kind."

But in May 1939, Morgenthau had a problem. The Great Depression — the most devastating economic catastrophe in American history — was not only persisting, in some ways it was getting worse. Unemployment, for example, the previous month had again passed the 20 percent mark. Here was Morgenthau, the secretary of the treasury, an expert on finance, a fount of statistics on the American economy during the 1930s; his best friend was the president of the United States and the author of the New Deal; key public policy decisions had to go through Morgenthau to get a hearing. And yet, with all this power, Morgenthau felt helpless. After almost two full terms of Roosevelt and the New Deal, here are Morgenthau's startling words — his confession — spoken candidly before his fellow Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee:

We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong...somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises....I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started....And an enormous debt to boot!

In these words, Morgenthau summarized a decade of disaster, especially during the years Roosevelt was in power. Indeed average unemployment for the whole year in 1939 would be higher than that in 1931, the year before Roosevelt captured the presidency from Herbert Hoover. Fully 17.2 percent of Americans, or 9,480,000, remained unemployed in 1939, up from 16.3 percent, or 8,020,000 in 1931. On the positive side, 1939 was better than 1932 and 1933, when the Great Depression was at its nadir, but 1939 was still worse than 1931, which at that time was almost the worst unemployment year in U.S. history. No depression, or recession, had ever lasted even half this long.

Put another way, if the unemployed in 1931 under Hoover would have been lined up one after the other in three separate lines side by side, they would have extended from Los Angeles across the country to the border of Maine. In 1939, eight years later, the three lines of unemployed Americans would have lengthened, heading from the border of Maine south to Boston, then to New York City, to Philadelphia, to Washington, D.C., and finally into Virginia. That line of unemployed people from the border of Maine into Virginia was mostly added when Roosevelt was president.

We can visualize this hypothetical line of unemployed Americans, but what about the human story of their suffering. Who were some of them, and what were they thinking? In the line at Chicago, we would encounter salesman Ben Isaacs. "Wherever I went to get a job, I couldn't get no job," Isaacs said of the prolonged depression. "I went around selling razor blades and shoe laces. There was a day I would go over all the streets and come home with fifty cents, making a sale. That kept going until 1940, practically." Letters to President Roosevelt tell other stories. For example, in Chicago, a twelve-year-old Chicago boy wrote the president, "We haven't paid the gas bill, and the electric bill, haven't paid grocery bill for 3 months....My father he staying home. All the time he's crying because he can't find work. I told him why are you crying daddy, and daddy said why shouldn't I cry when there is nothing in the house." In our hypothetical unemployment line at Latrobe, Pennsylvania, we might see the man who wrote in 1934, "No home, no work, no money. We cannot go along this way. They have shut the water supply from us. No means of sanitation. We cannot keep the children clean and tidy as they should be." From Augusta, Georgia, in 1935 came this letter to the president: "I am eating flour bread and drinking water, and no grease and nothing in the bread....I aint even got bed[d]ing to sleep on...." But even he was better off than the man from Beaver Dam, Virginia, who wrote the president, "We right now, have no work, no winter bed clothes....Wife don't even have a winter coat. What are we going to do through these cold times coming on? Just looks we will have to freeze and starve together."

High unemployment was just one of many tragic areas that made the 1930s a decade of disaster. The Historical Statistics of the United States, compiled by the Census Bureau, fills out the rest of the grim picture. The stock market, which picked up in the mid-1930s, had a collapse later in the decade. The value of all stocks dropped almost in half from 1937 to 1939. Car sales plummeted one-third in those same years, and were lower in 1939 than in any of the last seven years of the 1920s. Business failures jumped 50 percent from 1937 to 1939; patent applications for inventions were lower in 1939 than for any year of the 1920s. Real estate foreclosures, which did decrease steadily during the 1930s, were still higher in 1939 than in any year during the next two decades.

Another disaster sign in the 1930s was the spiraling national debt. The United States had budget surpluses in 1930 and 1931, but soon government spending ballooned and far outstripped revenue from taxes. The national debt stood at $16 billion in 1931; by the end of the decade the debt had more than doubled to more than $40 billion. Put another way, the national debt during the last eight years of the 1930s, less than one decade, grew more than it had in the previous 150 years of our country's existence. From 1776 to 1931, the spending to support seven wars and at least five recessions was more than offset by the debt acquired during the 1930s. Put yet another way, if Christopher Columbus, on that October day when he discovered the New World, could have arranged to put $100 a minute in a special account to defray the American debt, by 1939 his account would not yet have accumulated enough cash to pay for just the national debt acquired in the 1930s alone. In other words, if we were to pay $100 a minute (in 1930s dollars) into a special '30s debt account, we would need more than 450 years to raise enough money to pay off the debt of that decade.

The economic travail of the New Deal years can also be seen in the seven consecutive years of unbalanced trade from 1934 to 1940. Much of our government spending during the decade went to prop up prices of wheat, shirts, steel, and other exports, which in turn, because of the higher prices, made them less desirable as exports to other countries. From 1870 to 1970, only during the depression years plus the year 1888 did the United States have an unfavorable balance of trade.

Hard times are often followed by social problems. The United States in the 1930s was no exception. For example, the American birthrate dropped sharply, and the country's population increased only 7 percent in that decade. During the more prosperous 1920s, by contrast, the birthrate was higher and the country's population increased 16 percent.

For many Americans, the prolonged Great Depression of the 1930s became a time of death. As one eighty-year-old wrote, "Now [December 1934] there are a lot of us [who] will choose suicide in preference to being herded into the poor house." Apparently, thousands of Americans agreed with her, because suicides increased from 1929 to 1930 and remained high throughout the 1930s. Equally sad were the people who gave up on life after prolonged despair and took their lives more subtly, through an accidental fall, reckless driving, or being hit by a train. All three of these categories hit record numbers of deaths per capita during the New Deal years.

The loss of the will to live was also reflected in life expectancy during the 1930s. When Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, life expectancy in the United States was 63.3 years. Since 1900, it had steadily increased sixteen years — almost half a year each year of the first third of the twentieth century. In 1940, however, after more than seven years of the New Deal, life expectancy had dropped to 62.9 years. Granted, the slight decline during these years was not consistent — two of the seven years showed an increase over 1933. But the steady increase in life expectancy from 1900 to 1933 and from 1940 to the end of the century was clearly interrupted only during the New Deal years.

The halt in improved life expectancy hit blacks even harder than whites. In 1933, black Americans could expect to live only 54.7 years, but in 1940 that had dropped to 53.1 years. Both before and after the Great Depression, the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites had narrowed, but from 1933 to 1940 it actually widened. Strong indications are that blacks suffered more than whites during Roosevelt's first term as president.

Someone might survey the wreckage from the 1930s and say, "Okay, maybe the whole decade of the thirties was a disaster. But since the Great Depression was a worldwide catastrophe, doesn't that diminish America's blame for its bad numbers?" The Great Depression did, of course, rock most of the world, but some nations performed better than others in limiting damage and restoring economic growth. Fortunately, the League of Nations collected data from many nations throughout the 1930s on industrial production, unemployment, national debt, and taxes. How did the United States compare with other countries? The answer: in all four of these key indexes the U.S. did very poorly, almost worse than any other nation studied. Most nations of Europe weathered the Great Depression better than the United States did.

In a decade of economic disaster, such as the 1930s, a decline in morality is a significant danger. If record numbers of people are hungry, out of jobs, and taxed higher than ever before, will the charity, honesty, and integrity necessary to hold a society together begin to crumble as well? The Historical Statistics of the United States offers some help in answering this question. Homicides increased slightly during the 1930s. There were more than 10,000 murders a year only seven times from 1900 to 1960, and all seven years were in the 1930s. Arrests during this decade roughly doubled: almost 300,000 were made in 1932, and this steadily increased, reaching a peak of almost 600,000 in 1939. Divorce rates increased as well, especially during the late 1930s, and the number of cases of syphilis treated almost doubled, although cases of gonorrhea were roughly constant.

Statistics can't tell the whole story of the changing mores of the 1930s. Many persons openly threatened to steal — or thought about stealing — to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Joblessness also led to "jumping trains" either to find work elsewhere or just to roam the country. R. S. Mitchell of the Missouri Pacific Railroad testified before the U.S. Senate that young men who jumped trains often encountered "hardened criminals" on these rides, who were a "bad influence" on the character of these youths. The Historical Statistics further shows that deaths to trespassers on railroads were at their highest ever during the depression years of 1933 to 1936.

ROOSEVELT AND THE HISTORIANS

Did the New Deal, rather than helping to cure the Great Depression, actually help prolong it? That is an important question to ask and ponder. Almost all historians of the New Deal rank Roosevelt as a very good to great president and the New Deal programs as a step in the right direction. With only a few exceptions, historians lavish praise on Roosevelt as an effective innovator, and on the New Deal as a set of programs desperately needed and very helpful to the depressed nation.

An example of this adulation is the appraisal by Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris, two of the most distinguished American historians of the twentieth century. Commager, during a remarkable career at Columbia University and Amherst College, wrote over forty books and became perhaps the bestselling historian of the century. From the first year of Roosevelt's presidency, Commager lectured and wrote articles in defense of the New Deal. Richard Morris, his junior partner at Columbia, was a prolific author and president of the American Historical Association. Here is Commager and Morris's assessment of Roosevelt and the New Deal:

The character of the Republican ascendancy of the twenties had been pervasively negative; the character of the New Deal was overwhelmingly positive. "This nation asks for action, and action, now," Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, and asked for "power to wage war against the emergency."...

It is the stuff of good history, this — a leadership that was buoyant and dynamic; a large program designed to enable the government to catch up with a generation of lag and solve the problems that crowded upon it; a people quickened into resolution and self-confidence; a nation brought to realize its responsibilities and its potentialities. How it lends itself to drama! The sun rises on a stricken field; the new leader raises the banner and waves it defiantly at the foe; his followers crowd about him, armies of recruits emerge from the shadows and throng into the ranks; the bands play, the flags wave, the army moves forward, and soon the sound of battle and the shouts of victory are heard in the distance. In perspective we can see that it was not quite like that, but that was the way it seemed at the time.

Commager and Morris's assessment highlights four main points of defense for Roosevelt and the New Deal that have been adopted by most historians for the last seventy years: first, the 1920s were an economic disaster; second, the New Deal programs were a corrective to the 1920s, and a step in the right direction; third, Roosevelt (and the New Deal) were very popular; and fourth, Roosevelt was a good administrator and moral leader.

These four points constitute what many historians call "the Roosevelt legend." Since the works of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and William Leuchtenburg have been essential in shaping and fleshing out this view of Roosevelt, I will quote from them liberally. Schlesinger twice won the Pulitzer Prize and was probably the best-known historian in America. His three volumes on the rise of Roosevelt and the early New Deal became landmark books. Leuchtenburg, a professor at Columbia University and the University of North Carolina, wrote the standard one-volume history of the New Deal. Leuchtenburg studied and wrote his Ph.D. dissertation under the direction of Commager. The seasoned Commager was pleased with Leuchtenburg's devotion to Roosevelt because Commager gave Leuchtenburg the opportunity to write his history of the New Deal for the prestigious New American Nation Series. Leuchtenburg, in his career, trained scores of New Deal historians, who later wrote books and major articles on the New Deal. No one has ever, and maybe will ever, train more New Deal historians than William Leuchtenburg. Here, in more detail, are the four myths that Commager, Morris, Schlesinger, Leuchtenburg, and most historians have promoted.

First, as Commager and Morris state, "The character of the Republican ascendancy of the twenties had been pervasively negative; the character of the New Deal was overwhelmingly positive." In other words, the 1920s was an economic disaster that helped lead to the Great Depression, from which Roosevelt with his New Deal provided useful tools of relief, partial recovery, and reform for the American economy.

To promote this view, both Schlesinger and Leuchtenburg support the underconsumption thesis, which states that the Great Depression was accelerated because workers did not have adequate purchasing power during the 1920s to buy the products of industrial America. According to Schlesinger, "Management's disposition [in the 1920s] to maintain prices...meant that workers and farmers were denied the benefits of increases in their own productivity. The consequence was the relative decline of mass purchasing power." President Calvin Coolidge and his treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, contributed to great income disparities by enacting tax cuts for the rich. "The Mellon tax policy," Schlesinger says, "placing its emphasis on relief for millionaires rather than for consumers, made the maldistribution of income and oversaving even worse." Along similar lines, Leuchtenburg argues, "Insofar as one accepts the theory that underconsumption explains the Depression, and I do, then one can say that the Presidents of the 1920's are to blame...."

Second, "the character of the New Deal was overwhelmingly positive." Its intentions were excellent, and its results tended to be positive. Historians cite statistics to support this point: unemployment was 25 percent in 1933, Roosevelt's first year in office, and dropped steadily to about 15 percent by the end of his term in early 1937. The New Deal, then, did not solve the Great Depression, but it was a move in the right direction. William Leuchtenburg writes, "The New Deal achieved a more just society by recognizing groups which had been largely unrepresented — staple farmers, industrial workers, particular ethnic groups, and the new intellectual-administrative class." Samuel Eliot Morison, longtime professor at Harvard University, echoed this view: "The New Deal was just what the term implied — a new deal of old cards, no longer stacked against the common man." Textbook writers often pick up this theme. Historian Joseph Conlin concludes, "The greatest positive accomplishment of the New Deal was to ease the economic hardships suffered by millions of Americans...."

Third, Roosevelt was a popular and beloved president. He received unprecedented amounts of fan mail and he won reelection by a smashing 523 to 8 landslide in the electoral college — and then won two more terms after that. His fireside chats on the radio uplifted Americans and mobilized them behind his New Deal. "He came through to people," Schlesinger wrote, "because they felt — correctly — that he liked them and cared about them." Conlin writes, "Where Teddy [Roosevelt] had been liked and enjoyed, however, FDR was loved and adored." There were, of course, pockets of opposition to Roosevelt, especially among some selfish and greedy businessmen, who resented the regulations and taxes in the New Deal programs. "Roosevelt," Leuchtenburg writes, "was also determined to regulate the practices of high finance, and it was inevitable that this would cost him business support." But most Americans were enthusiastically behind the president. In fact, in his first midterm election of 1934, his party gained seats in both the House and Senate — something only Roosevelt did between 1902 and 1998. By 1936, his Democrats dominated Congress more than any party has in the last 150 years.

Fourth, Roosevelt was an admirable executive and a good moral leader. Schlesinger, like all historians, concedes that Roosevelt "made mistakes both in policy and in politics," but he was a great president nonetheless. "Roosevelt had superb qualities of leadership, superb instincts for the crucial problems of his age, superb ability to select and manage vigorous subordinates, enormous skill as a public educator, and enormous ability to lift the spirits of the republic and to mobilize national energies." According to Morison, "Roosevelt reasserted the presidential leadership which had been forfeited by his three predecessors and promoted the growth of federal power, which had halted since the First World War." Leuchtenburg concludes that "if the test of a good administration is not an impeccable organizational chart but creativity, then Roosevelt must be set down not merely as a good administrator but as a resourceful innovator." What's more, "Franklin Roosevelt re-created the modern Presidency. He took an office which had lost much of its prestige and power in the previous twelve years and gave it...importance...." Moral leadership is important, and Leuchtenburg writes that "essentially he [Roosevelt] was a moralist who wanted to achieve certain humane reforms and instruct the nation in the principles of government." "The presidency," Roosevelt himself said, "is not merely an administrative office....It is predominantly a place of moral leadership."

These four parts of the Roosevelt legend have a strong cumulative effect and historians regularly place Roosevelt among the top three presidents in U.S. history. In fact, the most recent Schlesinger poll (1996) ranks Roosevelt and Lincoln as the greatest president in U.S. history. He and his New Deal have become American idols. As Conlin writes, "From the moment F. D. R. delivered his ringing inaugural address — the clouds over Washington parting on cue to let the March sun through, it was obvious that he was a natural leader." Even before Roosevelt died, Conlin notes, "he was ranked by historians as among the greatest of the chief executives....No succeeding generation of judges has demoted him." Leuchtenburg concludes, "Few would deny that Franklin Delano Roosevelt continues to provide the standard by which every successor has been, and may well continue to be, measured."

Of course, historians are often nigglers and all students of Roosevelt and his presidency have some complaints. What's interesting is that most of these complaints are that Roosevelt should have done more than he did, not less. "The havoc that had been done before Roosevelt took office," Leuchtenburg argues, "was so great that even the unprecedented measures of the New Deal did not suffice to repair the damage." Therefore, to Leuchtenburg and others, the New Deal was only "a halfway revolution" that should have gone further. Some historians say FDR should have done more deficit spending during the recession of 1937; some chide him for not supporting civil rights more strongly; some point to abuse or corruption in some of the programs; and some say he should have done much more to redistribute wealth. The New Deal was, many historians conclude, a conservative revolution that saved capitalism and preserved the existing order. Some New Deal historians of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s — loosely called the "constraints school" — argue that the New Deal did promote many needed changes, but that Roosevelt was constrained in what he could accomplish and therefore he did as much reform as circumstances would permit.

These recent criticisms of Roosevelt and the New Deal slightly alter but do not diminish the Roosevelt legend. The four points of defense are currently intact, and are usually found in most histories of the New Deal and in virtually all of the American history textbooks today.

Two examples will help illustrate this point. David Kennedy and George McJimsey, both of whom loosely fit in the "constraints school," have written recent books on the Roosevelt presidency. Kennedy's book won the Pulitzer Prize in history and McJimsey's is part of the distinguished American Presidency Series. Kennedy praises "the remarkable generation of scholars" who did "pioneering work on the New Deal era." He cites Leuchtenburg, Schlesinger, and four other similar historians and writes, "Though I sometimes disagree with their emphases and evaluations, they laid the foun-dation on which all subsequent study of that period has built, including my own." Kennedy, like these predecessors, concludes, "Roosevelt's New Deal was a welcoming mansion of many rooms, a place where millions of his fellow citizens could find at last a measure of...security...." McJimsey, also like his predecessors, praises Roosevelt: "No president in our history has faced such critical problems with the courage, vision, and stamina that Roosevelt displayed." McJimsey concludes that "one of Roosevelt's major achievements was to create an institutional structure for the modern welfare state....Subsequent presidents," McJimsey notes approvingly, "were freer than ever to use government in creative ways."

The durability of Roosevelt's popularity among historians was noted by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who himself was sometimes criticized for his Roosevelt books. Schlesinger remarked in 1988 that the rapidly increasing historical scholarship has more polished than tarnished the Roosevelt legend. In 1988, almost thirty years after Schlesinger's major works on Roosevelt were published, he surveyed the avalanche of recent books on the New Deal and observed that "a very considerable literature has appeared on many facets of the age of Roosevelt. I do not believe that the outpouring of scholarly books, monographs, and articles changes the main outline of the story told in these volumes, but some float ingenious theories and others add valuable details."

After his 1996 presidential poll, Schlesinger was more confident in Roosevelt than ever. Of the thirty-two experts consulted, thirty-one gave FDR the highest rating of "Great" and one ranked him "Near Great," the second highest rating. "For a long time FDR's top standing enraged many who had opposed his New Deal," Schlesinger wrote. "But now that even Newt Gingrich pronounces FDR the greatest president of the century, conservatives accept FDR at the top with stoic calm." Along these lines, historian David Hamilton, who edited a book of essays on the New Deal, observed, "Conservative critiques [of the New Deal] have drawn less attention in recent years...." In other words, according to Schlesinger and many historians, the debate is over as the Roosevelt legend is established even among conservative historians.

The historical literature tends to support Schlesinger. The books and articles on Roosevelt and the New Deal are now so extensive, however, that it is almost impossible to read it all. Historian Anthony Badger has come as close as any modern historian to mastering the New Deal literature, and his book The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-1940 is an essential tool to the modern historian trying to sort out all the writing on the subject. Badger looks fondly at Schlesinger and Leuchtenburg, the two key historians to shape the historical writing on the New Deal:

At a time when there were few specialist monographs, both authors [Schlesinger and Leuchtenburg] displayed a remarkably sure touch in identifying the critical issues at stake in the most diverse New Deal activities. Both demonstrated an enviable mastery of a vast range of archival material. No one is ever likely to match the richness of Schlesinger's dramatic narrative. No one is ever likely to produce a better one volume treatment of the New Deal than Leuchtenburg's.

Thus, the Roosevelt legend seems to be intact. And as long as it is intact, the principles of public policy derived from the New Deal will continue to dominate American politics. As historian Ray Allen Billington noted, the New Deal "established for all time the principle of positive government action to rehabilitate and preserve the human resources of the nation." Yet, as we have seen, there is that nagging observation in 1939 by Henry Morgenthau, the secretary of the treasury, the friend of Roosevelt's and the man in the center of the storm. With great sadness, he confessed, "We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work....We have never made good on our promises."

Since national unemployment during the previous month of April 1939 was 20.7 percent, Morgenthau's admission has the ring of truth to it.

Is it possible that the Roosevelt legend is really the Roosevelt myth?

Copyright © 2008 by Burton Folsom

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1 The Making of the Myth: FDR and the New Deal

Chapter 2 FDR's Rise to Power: Political Skill, Ambition, and Deception

Chapter 3 What Caused the Great Depression?

Chapter 4 The NRA: Why Price-Fixing Damaged American Business

Chapter 5 The AAA: How It Hurt Farming

Chapter 6 Relief and the WPA: Did They Really Help the Unemployed?

Chapter 7 More Public Programs That Fell Short: The Air Mail Act, FERA Camps, and TVA

Chapter 8 Financial Interference: Manipulation of Gold and Silver Markets, Tariffs, Stocks, and Banks

Chapter 9 Safety Net or Quagmire? Minimum Wage, Social Security, and Labor Relations

Chapter 10 No Free Ride: The Burden of Excise, Income, and Corporate Taxes

Chapter 11 The IRS: FDR's Personal Weapon

Chapter 12 Patronage Transformed: The Elections of 1934 and 1936

Chapter 13 FDR Stumbles: Court Packing, the Purge, and the Issue of Race

Chapter 14 How FDR's Deception Tarnished the Presidency Forever

Chapter 15 What FDR Should Have Done: Cut Spending, Tax Rates, and the Tariff

Chapter 16 What Finally Did End the Great Depression?

Chapter 17 Why Historians Have Missed the Mark

Chapter 18 The New Deal and Repercussions for Today's Economy

Notes

Select Bibliography

Index

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 78 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 5, 2010

    Great book about FDR and the Great Depression

    It took reading this book to make me realize how little I knew about the Great Depression. I also realized how wrong my thinking was about what caused the Great Depression and why it lasted so long. This book should be required reading in high school.

    12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Setting the Record Straight

    To the previous reviewer -- those entitlement programs are broke, so I guess they didn't work, did they?

    The book is well-researched and even offers citations. Its hard to argue with any conclusions that the author draws, because the facts back them up. This book is full of information that you didn't learn in school. The Obama administration looks moderate, when you read what happened in the Roosevelt years. If you're want to know where Obama is taking our country, read this book.

    10 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2009

    Actually government spending was the right thing to do. Lots of it.

    Idyllic??

    The good feelings for F.D.R. were based on the real suffering he alleviated.

    It is easy for the armchair economist, who has plenty to eat and a warm place to sleep, to suggest a hands off approach to solving the depression era downturn.

    The problem is the length of time that approach might take would have meant prolonged suffering to those at the bottom of the income brackets. Many who were elderly and children.

    People were going hungry and suffering during the depression. And the federal programs created by F.D.R. helped alleviate it. Hence F.D.R.'s reelection.

    There is no perfect system, but the lesser of two evils is the approach which was used. And used correctly. However imperfect.

    The fact is, massive government spending during WWII, helped lift the United States out of its depression era.

    So F.D.R. was not guilty by failure of ideology, but by scope. The problem with F.D.R. was not that he spent, but that he spent too little until WWII.

    Government spending was the solution.
    It was not perfect, but it solved the problem.

    Fiscal austerity sounds great as long as you're not the one in the breadline.

    9 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2009

    Revealing

    I read this for a book club last month. It was great. Although the author is plainly biased in his views, he does give credit where credit is due, to Roosevelt, and certainly backs up with fact everything he writes about. This is a well researched book revealing Roosevelt's economic recovery plans for what they were--criminal and wrong. It also provides an in-depth look at a man that has been revered for too long, and for all the wrong reasons. The author does a great job of revealing what really went on during FDR's administration and how economically crippling it was back then, but more importantly, in my view, how crippling it will be today if the same course is followed.

    It provided for good discussion during our book club as everyone had different insights. It also provided good discussion, debate, and insight on our current economic situation.

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    Not the greatest read

    I was honestly hoping for this book to be great, and while exposing the New Deal for the sham that it was isn't all that difficult, the author unfortunately fails to deliver.

    I'm not a leftist, a Socialist, a Democrat, or a Progressive. I'm a Conservative, Republican, and a Capitalist.

    This book was actually difficult to get through, it was written from an extremely biased point of view, which you would expect, however the bias at some points was so thick, it caused this book to lose relevance.

    It could have been a great book, and if nothing else is an anthology of the failings of FDR and the New Deal, however this cannot be considered a serious academic work.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2009

    Sets the record straight!

    One of the best discussions of the New Deal to date. Finally, someone has burst the bubble the progressives (liberals), academia, & the media created regarding FDR & the new deal.

    This should be required reading in the government sponsored public school systems!

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    Should be required reading for all

    This was an excellent book and it points out how misguided government policies, programs, and federal spending prolonged the Great Depression. It gives you a glimpse into what is occurring today and possible outcomes. The book illustrates how government intervention in the free market can lead to market distortions and unintended consequences. What sounds good and popular to the average person on the street inevitably creates more problems than are solved and unfortunately it is the avearge person on the street that gets hurt. I was also captivated by FDR's ego and how destructive he could be if you opposed him. What a shame. After reading this book, I was left with a much different attitude about FDR, politicians, and government over-reach. Hence, the less government the better. It is simply wrong to use taxpayer money to curry favor through "patronage." FDR was a master of this, along with using other arms of the government to manipulate the voters: "the dole spoils the soul" or to attack his opponents e.g. IRS. Couldn't agree more. Fasinating book. A must read for anyone who is trying to understand why we are where we are today.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2009

    Informative

    The book clearly outlines how bad economic decision-making and party-first politics extended the length of the Great Depression. There are many vaulalbe lessons for today's politicians. If we can learn from our past then maybe we can avoid making the same mistakes and another depression. History and economics show that a country can't spend its way out of a recession. Money taken away from the private sector and businesses is money taken away from a quick recovery. Individuals and businesses are what drive the economy, and Burton Folsom provides a clear and accurate picture of how our government and politics held our country back and damaged the fabric of our nation.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Sets the record straight!

    This is excellent reading, although it deals with the process of converting the US into a welfare and government depending state in the early 1900s (Depression Era), it is completely relevant today. Socialists always try to gain control of the population with ill conceived plans during trying and desperate times. This book isn't deep or confusing, it is simple and easy to grasp. I will definitely pass along my copy to others.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Raw Deal

    Raw Deal is what this book is about. It tells you what really happened in the the great depression. It tell how the polices of FDR made things worse. Also it the same plan Oboma is using to try and run this country He is trying the same things that did not work then and will not work know.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    A Biased Opinion

    It's sad that the other reviews for this book now seem to take it as factual. I guess you find the "facts" for which you search. This book is yet another opinion-based book. The facts are used to interpret history the way they want it interpreted. Obviously written by regressives who don't like the social safety net formed by the New Deal, it's sad they don't admit that programs like Social Security and laws like Glass-Steagall actually have helped stabilize people's retirement incomes and the financial system. I bet they won't be returning those SS checks once they start coming in..

    4 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2010

    Another book on FDR and how he prolonged the Great Depression

    Here is another book on FDR and the Great Depression. The author tries to present FDR and the Democratic administration of the time as prolonging the Great Depression. Yes some of their policies did interfere with the economy, but it does not address the fact that FDR was following a lot of polocies advocated by Herbert Hoover. FDR basically tok these policies much further and at a national level. The book does not say anything about the individual states interfering with the economy. Nor anything abouth the federal government interference since the Progressive era. The author tends to be somewhat biased toward FDR. Yes he is probably right about the interference in the economy, but just imanigined what would have happened if Hoover had been reelected and the same policies had been continued as from 1929-1932. Want to bet that things probably have been worse? I do agree with the author in priciple, but if nothing had been done, I think things would have been even worse in the political sense.

    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2009

    Outstanding Book

    EVERYONE should read this book!!!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    Interesting and Instructive

    It is good that FDR's tensure is coming under critical rather than adoring review.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    Very Enlightening

    I was familiar with much of the information offered in this book, but it did offer some new, and very enlightening, information that I had not previously known. I think it would be good for the U.S. if more Americans would read this book, especially now. I highly recommend it to everyone.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2011

    Insightful!

    I read this book a few years ago and found the book quite interesting about how government intervention, although well-intended, can be quite destructive to an economy, a nation, and its people. This book is well worth the read. It will give the average reader insight into the policies of FDR during the Great Depression. Some of these policies still remain today, namely Social Security. This should be a wake-up call given the circumstances today. Government spending seems like a good idea for those who are sitting on the sidelines eager for an economic turnaround as a result of government spending,"the 870 billion stimulus". However, as was the case, the government stimulus failed to energize the economy. Reading Folsom, only reminds the reader, that well intended government spending that is not properly directed at the engine of economic develop falls short and is often wasted, as was seen with the latest stimulus. I am looking forward to the next book by Folsom, FDR Goes to War.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Waste of time

    The only thing that has damaged America is the Party of Hate on the Right who's philosophical view is so twisted against the average citizen. What a bunch of ill-informed extremists that have no concept of humanity.

    1 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 4, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Good Read. Germane to Modern America.

    This is the first book that I've read by this author. I've read other books on the subject matter. The author does not go into exhaustive detail to make his points, and the book is not replete with economic idiom. The book's content is shaped around his argument, and he discusses causality of the depression, as well as impacts of the NRA, AAA, TVA, WPA, taxation, FERA, financial interference, patronage, IRS abuses, attempts at court packing, labor relations, social security, and minimum wages. Once again he does not go into great detail in discussing the impacts. Readers looking for a more in depth read may be disappointed. He also discusses the abilities, ethics, and actions of FDR. FDR evangelists will also not be pleased with this book's subject matter. The book is an easy read. The subject matter is clearly germane to present day events.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    FDR is overrated and the myth of the New Deal is exposed. This i

    FDR is overrated and the myth of the New Deal is exposed. This is a must read for younger people as well as older. You won't learn this in school and a true story of history that must be shared. I would first like to debunk  one argument: That is the notion if the government doesn't spend people will go hungry well people did go hungry because of the government. When government chooses winners only small groups will benefit and the majority of the people suffer. You don't punish good behavior and subsidize bad behavior. More people suffered for more years under these policies than in anytime in the history of the US. 

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  • Posted January 2, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Must Read

    Easy flow of content; draw your own conclusion on subject matter.

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