Arnold Kling  

Strong Leadership

Delusions on Both Sides... Friend or Foe?...

Many of us are grasping at historical analogies to the current financial crisis, and the 1930's keep coming up. One of the lessons of the 1930's is that in times of crisis people want strong leadership. In the 1930's, that meant Mussolini (who took power a decade earlier), Tojo, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill (who took power in 1940).

I admit that I am a Churchill fan, but even his supporters have to concede that he was highly erratic and often dangerous. Roosevelt strikes me as all action, no thought. A few of his moves were right in my opinion, including the bank holiday and deposit insurance. In the short run, I think that going off the gold standard helped, although the long run consequences are more debatable. Many of his moves were wrong, including the NRA. Overall, he succeeded with the public emotionally, but it's hard to view the economy's performance under his leadership as anything but disastrous.

As for Mussolini, Tojo, Hitler, and Stalin, I don't think there is much room for ambiguity in our evaluation.

My point is that strong leadership is bad, even though it is popular. I recently reminded readers of the bad consequences of the strong leadership of President Nixon's Treasury Secretary John Connally. I think that the current strong leadership coming from Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson will prove similarly unfortunate.

In the Presidential campaign, the candidate whose temperament is most conducive to strong leadership is John McCain. So far, Barack Obama comes across to me as cautious and cerebral. If I thought he would stay that way, then I would root for him in the election. However, my guess is that in the coming weeks his political instincts will lead him to remake his image into that of the strong, decisive leader that the public presumably craves.

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CATEGORIES: Economic History

COMMENTS (17 to date)
Snorri Godhi writes:

This post shows one of the reasons why I am not a libertarian: I believe in strong leadership in foreign policy. Also, I believe in strong leadership in DEregulation.

"I admit that I am a Churchill fan, but even his supporters have to concede that he was highly erratic and often dangerous."

Amen to that. I myself am a Genghis Khan fan. Leadership does not get any stronger than that. You could call me a Genghis-con.

David Thomson writes:

"So far, Barack Obama comes across to me as cautious and cerebral."

Is this supposed to be some sort of joke? Barack Obama is as left-wing as George McGovern. He is something of a disciple of Saulk Alinsky. Obama is a man who has every intention of pushing European socialism onto the United States. Arnold Kling needs to do some studying on the matter and stop making a fool of himself. He is a quintessential example of someone who is adamantly pro-abortion---and allows this issue to blind him to reality.

The country is in deep jeopardy because of the pro-abortionist economists who are betraying their principles to cover for the very secular Obama. They are behaving shamelessly. At the very best, one can argue that Kling is indulging in self delusion.

Broadsword writes:

Weak leadership is not leadership. The only way I'd follow Obama anywhere is exiting a burning building, and even then it would take him too long to decide which exit was most profitable to his image. If he ever shouts "Follow me!" in my proximity, I'll know to go the other way. Are you enamored with Jimmy, 444 Days, Carter?

David Thomson writes:

"Are you enamored with Jimmy, 444 Days, Carter?"

Both Arnold Kling and Bryan Caplan are adamantly pro-abortion. The latter gentleman is especially hostile towards traditional Judeo-Christian values. Subconsciously, they will find any phony excuse to support the very left-wing Barack Obama regardless of the economic consequences to the nation. Once again, these two economists are truly disgracing themselves.

Alex J. writes:

I'm trying to understand what is incompatible between libertarianism and strong leadership regarding deregulation. Now if you're looking for strong leadership in foreign policy, Genghis Khan is certainly the way to go.

Frejus writes:

John McCain seems unprincipled, erratic, and uninformed. He's demonstrated that. We've had enough of that. It's called George W Bush.

So I wonder why you malign Obama for something he's not done, something you predict he'll do in the future based on a "guess."

Andrew writes:

Strong leadership = more slavery for the led

Implicit in Libertarianism is the necessity for weak (dispersed) leadership. Freedom of exit (from the rule of a 'leader') is a required part, a necessary freedom. Otherwise, it's just a fancy new name for serfdom.

Chuck writes:

Wow, abortion doesn't come up here often!

I had a friend once tell me that the way to fix Social Security was to make abortion illegal so that there would be more workers paying in.

Snorri Godhi writes:

Hi Alex: actually, if you parse my comment, you'll see that it does not imply that libertarianism is incompatible with strong leadership in deregulation. And btw I should have included cutting public spending, simplifying the tax code, raising Pigouvian taxes, and fighting corruption. The longer the list, the more leadership is required.

However, some versions of libertarianism are indeed incompatible with any form of strong leadership, and that apparently includes Arnold Kling's version.

As for foreign policy, economic history suggests to me that sustained economic growth is not possible without at least one free-market global superpower leading the way. Genghis Khan made a stab at it, which failed apparently due to the Black Death.

David Thomson writes:

"Wow, abortion doesn't come up here often!"

Yes, it most certainly does---in a very subtle way. Abortion and the other aspects of the secularist agenda underpin the mindset of almost the entire field of economists who have earned a Ph.d. This is why perhaps the vast majority of them vote for Democrats. They lie to themselves. Their support has next nothing to do with economics per se. They are simply prostituting themselves to go along with the demands of their cultural milieu.

Dan Weber writes:

Someone has issues.

spencer writes:

FDR presided over the greatest advance in standard of living in the US of any decade in history.

If this is disastrous I would sure love to see what you consider successful.

Lord writes:

The recovery under Roosevelt was quite strong; it is just that it was coming after the utter disaster of Hoover. Some mistakes led to the 37 recession, generally the same mistakes that were considered the proper response that led to it in the first place.

Andrea Williams writes:

There are many different types of leaders. Although you may see Roosevelt, Churchill, Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin as strong leaders, they all are very different. They all have different personalities; therefore, they lead differently. Roosevelt may have made a few bad decisions during his time in office, but don't forget about the good decisions too, such as the TVA. So to say that in times like now when the economy appears to be in danger, we do not need a strong leader is a little untruthful. If we put a weak leader into office right now, you can bet that our economy would be even worse off than it already is.

As for Obama and McCain, I agree with you: McCain is the stronger leader. He has served proudly for our country, became a POW and is still so proud to be an American that he wants to lead our country. But Obama: he had the picture of his American flag painted over on his private jet. We need a president in our country that will waive our flag proudly and lead us that way as well.

Kurbla writes:

Why you do not discuss and vote for some libertarian party?

kirby writes:

Strong leadership can be bad, especially when said leader is corrupt and convinces everyone else to go along with him. There are times, thought when a strong leader is needed. In times of crisis people will look to their leader to get them out. If the leader is weak nothing effective will get done. If a leader is too strong he will do more harm than good. The type of leadership that is needed depends on the situation. Sometime a country can get by with very little leadership, sometimes it needs its leaders to be powerful.

K writes:

Isn't that what is all about...the person who appears to be the strongest leader at the time you pull the lever is the one who wins the election. Before this crises, McCain was being pointed out as the one who would be best suited to lead our country during a time of war. Now, you have people turning away from him because someone of the same party is in office while the economy is faltering.

I wish we could have someone run for the highest office who doesn't really care what he/she looks like, but actually has some sort of evidence that they can help our economy. Until then, looks will be all that matter and they will continue to be deceiving.

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