Arnold Kling  

David Kennedy talks to Russ Roberts

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In this podcast, where the topic is the history of the Depression. Kennedy's book, Freedom From Fear, is one that I read recently and enjoyed.

I find it quite interesting that the standard narrative is that Hoover was non-interventionist and that Roosevelt's interventions were successful, yet many recent histories do not support that narrative. This issue gets discussed in the podcast.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
mark writes:

Freedom from Fear is indeed an outstanding work. For instance, I never had much interest in military history but I must say the book's recounting of WWII was memorable. Another remarkable aspect of the book is how vividly it conveys Churchill's desperately frustrating relationship with FDR. Churchill is the one politician who comes off without much blemish in the book.

liberty writes:

Listening to the start of the podcast (I stopped it and may or may not return to it), I was disappointed that Kennedy seemed to assume (and it may be true, but it easily may not) that the GD was deeper and longer than the 1920 recession for reasons exogenous to the policy choices.

For example, he kept talking about hindsight--Hoover did not know that it would be so deep and long (and hence did not take more drastic action). His experience had been in the 1920 recession which was short and the policies taken were relatively minor (though he did champion policies to encourage employers to keep their workers).

In that section of the podcast, at least, he did not seem to consider that the policies chosen might have had something to do with the difference in depth and length. He mentions the failure of Smoot-Hawley, yet does not consider that this, along with his stricter wage and layoff controls, might have prevented recovery before FDR came to office, and that subsequently FDR's policies might have drawn it out further.

He also makes the (in my opinion indefensible) claim that WWII ended the unemployment problem and (at least implied) the depression. I don't think killing your unemployed counts as employing them; and I don't think borrowing massive amounts, building goods and then destroying them, counts as long-term recovery. We recovered AFTER the war, not during it.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

Hoover's bad non-intervention was not stopping deflation through dollar devaluation. He thought leaving the gold standard would put mortgage holders with "pay in gold" clauses way underwater, which was correct, but short-sighted.

FDR's good intervention was saying "the Federal government can make gold clauses null and void" and then devaluing. A massive expansion of Federal power, but unfortunately it is a requirement of having government run the money supply instead of private industry :)

All other interventions by both didn't seem to do much except scare business owners.

sean writes:

Sigh. When I first saw this I thought I read "Dead Kennedys talk to Russ Roberts". Man I would love to to see a Russ Roberts interview of Jello Biafra.

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