Jim Powell is a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, a well known Libertarian think tank. While this means Jim has an obvious conservative (or classical liberal if you prefer) bias toward less government influence in the economy, his analysis of FDR’s programs is based on exhaustive research.
Jim’s book takes a critical look at the programs developed by FDR’s “brain trust” and “New Dealers” to determine if, in fact, they contributed to recovery or prolonged the depression. To do this Jim provides short biographical sketches of the key “New Dealers” in chapter one and then looks in detail at the major programs and policy decisions they developed or headed over the course of the depression. A chapter of the book is devoted to each program with the last chapter for lessons we can learn from this period.
Each chapter of the book is titled with a question, such as What Caused the Great Depression? Why Did FDR Seize Everybody’s Gold? How Did New Deal Labor Laws Throw People out of Work? The book is well researched with good end notes, bibliography and index.
This is a well written book supports his case that much of FDR’s programs delayed recovery. During the entire Great Depression unemployment never dropped below 14 % and in any year maintained a median of 20%. Jim tackles all the major programs; the NRA (later declared unconstitutional), the CCC, government confiscation of gold from private citizens, the depression of 1938 (yes, a depression within a depression), the destruction of food crops while Americans went hungry and the support of labor unions that increased unemployment. I wish Jim had devoted more space to explaining the Federal Reserve and banking, but this is minor shortfall.
I highly recommend this book. It confirmed my caution of large federal government programs to deal with complex economies and the individual desires of millions of people. The lessons from this book, published in 2003, and it’s relation to our current problems regarding healthcare, stimulus plans, subsidies (corporate welfare) is clear. Indeed, it is almost prophetic.