David R. Henderson  

New Deal Panel, II

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I heartily second Bryan Caplan's endorsement of the Canadian TV show on the New Deal.

Bryan focused on the economic content and I want to add my own thoughts to that, but beyond that is the amazing tone of the discussion. The host, Steve Paikin, has obviously done his homework and read at least some of the articles he asks about. He doesn't play "gotcha" but, instead, is trying to find answers to key questions about the New Deal, fiscal policy, etc. He also keeps it moving. On the other side are five informed people who all, at least apparently, respect each other. All five also wait their turn and don't interrupt. They take each other on but do so using the standard rules of decorum. I started listening to this at the end of the day in my office and found it so compelling that I called my wife and told her I would be late because I was just hooked and had to finish it.

I know and respect two of the players--Russ Roberts and David Kennedy--and know and respect the work of Lee Ohanian. I don't know the two Canadians, economist Eric Lacelles and historian Joe Martin--but they had none of the anti-American prejudice that I experienced as an undergrad in Canada. And Martin was absolutely charming--both in the way he stated his knowledge of the Canadian economy and his story about being unable to find Coke due to rationing in World War II. (He grew up in Saskatchewan, the province next door to Manitoba, where I was raised.) If your idea of controversial shows is Hannity and Colmes with one or the other or usually both insulting, interrupting, and disrespecting their guests, and if you don't like that, you will find this show a breath of fresh air.

Now to some of the specifics. The number at the start of each is the approximate time at which it takes place on the show.

7:00 Joe Martin makes the point that from 1933 to 1940, Canada had two non-activist Prime Ministers, R.B. Bennett and William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Canada's economy outperformed the U.S. economy.

8:00 After Martin mentioned FDR's leadership style, as opposed to his economic policies, as being positive, Paikin said tersely but politely, "Let's leave leadership aside," and got back to the economic issues.

17:00 Martin makes the point that the Depression hit North America harder than it hit Europe and that it hit Canada harder than the U.S. From peak to trough, Canada's GNP fell 35% while the U.S. GNP fell by 30%.

18:00 David Kennedy makes the claim that rationing was not used extensively in the United States during World War II. I think he's wrong. Read sometime about how people couldn't drive their cars due to gas rationing.

22:00 Kennedy makes the point that in his second inaugural address, in 1937, FDR worried that coming out of the Depression would make it harder for him to achieve his "progressive purpose."

31:00 Russ Roberts asserted that politicians such as Obama are under tremendous pressure to do something about the economy. I disagree. I think if Obama shut down Gitmo, got the troops out of Iraq by next December, and got rid of some of the U.S. government's surveillance, and didn't do much else about the economy other than fire Paulsen and ratchet back the Bush/Paulsen bailout, he would be thought of as a hero.

33:30 Joe Martin preferred the policies of silent Cal Coolidge--"he didn't do very much"--to those of FDR. Martin has visited Coolidge's grave but not FDR's. On the other hand, me talking, to some extent Washington, D.C. is FDR's grave--or at least his monument.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Blackadder writes:

David Kennedy makes the claim that rationing was not used extensively in the United States during World War II.

Perhaps I misunderstand the mechanics of rationing, but it strikes me that the anecdote Prof. Kennedy cites about his parents' unused ration books undercuts his own point. If people weren't using most of their ration cards, this could be because a) the rations were so generous that they far exceeded demand (which seems unlikely), or b) consumer products were so scarce that it really didn't matter whether you had a ration card or not. If it's the latter, this would suggest that scarcity during WWII was even more severe than one would expect just looking at the rations.

John Thacker writes:
I think if Obama shut down Gitmo, got the troops out of Iraq by next December, and got rid of some of the U.S. government's surveillance, and didn't do much else about the economy other than fire Paulsen and ratchet back the Bush/Paulsen bailout, he would be thought of as a hero.

I wish there were a way to take that bet, but since I think that the odds of most of that happening are so low, it's not worth it. I'd like it to be so, but I think you're projecting quite a bit. I think he'd suffer from the death of a thousand cuts in his popularity. A hero to some people, perhaps in Economics departments.

DanT writes:

I agree with Blackadder and want to add two other possibilities.

(3) People hoarded ration books out of necessity. If you want to bake a birthday cake, you needed to carefully plan to collect enough coupons to get enough sugar and butter. After years of living with rationing, everybody figured this out. When rationing ended, lots of people had ration book collections. (See note on availability below for proof.)

(4) People hoarded food in anticipation of rationing and so did not need to use all of their ration books. My grandmother who lived through WWI rationing, upon hearing WWII was declared, immediately bought the biggest bag of sugar she could find. She used it through the war and didn't need to count her sugar coupons as closely as her neighbors.

RATION BOOK AVAILABILITY

There are lots of WWII ration books available today. Check out the very low prices on ebay (search for WWII ration book).

If ration books were unimportant, people would not have kept them, even to their deaths (like my grandmother who didn't buy the big bag of sugar). If they were unimportant, they would have been thrown out quickly. Instead, they were safely tucked away to be put up on ebay by the user's survivors. Ration books were such a part of daily life, people held them to remind themselves of those times.

David Hays writes:


As my Dad tells it, he and his teammates won a high school football championship by default in 1943 because the New Orleans semi-finalist didn't have sufficient rations to get enough gas to get to the game in North Louisiana. The game was in North Louisiana because the farmers used their excess gas rations to outbid the New Orleans team for home-field.

Daniel Klein writes:

David Henderson's line about DC being FDR's monument is interesting. I feel similarly. The DC aesthetic is one of official domination and imperial power, repugnant to anyone of liberal sensibilities.

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