Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 7, 2009

MCCONNELL VS FDR.... Why wasn't the Senate Republican caucus able to play a constructive role this week on economic policy? Because they simply perceive reality in a different way.

...Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has the intellectual honesty to come right out and say that he's opposed to the concept that massive public expenditure will save a tailspinning economy. [...]

McConnell's been respectful to Barack Obama, but he's pure hell on FDR, as evidenced by tonight's peroration on the stimulus:

"But one of the good things about reading history is you learn a good deal. And, we know for sure that the big spending programs of the New Deal did not work. In 1940, unemployment was still 15%. And, it's widely agreed among economists, that what got us out of the doldrums that we were in during the Depression was the beginning of World War II."

Glenn Thrush gives McConnell credit for "intellectual honesty." I suppose. McConnell really seems to believe what he's saying, and he votes accordingly.

But it's difficult to give the Minority Leader credit when he's spouting such transparent nonsense. Dean Baker set the record straight last week on FDR's record, as did Paul Krugman a couple of months ago.

It's especially interesting to hear McConnell say WWII improved the economy. How, exactly, does McConnell reconcile this? FDR's government spending didn't help the economy, but FDR's government spending for a world war did help the economy? As Krugman recently explained, World War II was an "enormous public works project ... which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy's needs."

Perhaps some enterprising Capitol Hill reporter can ask the Minority Leader about this at the next briefing. If McConnell believes WWII gave the economy a boost, why did WWII give the economy a boost?

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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yes, WWII helped the economy -- because it was a enormous WORKS program!

teh stoopid, it burnz.

Posted by: karen marie on February 7, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

It had nothing to do with economics. He thinks going to war put us in a good mood and got us out of the "doldrums" we were in. What we need now is just another really good war. Three's a charm!

Posted by: rabbit on February 7, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

Remember, Bush campaigned in 2000 on the idea that we need tax cuts because you can't trust DC with your money. Immediately after the inauguration he said we needed the tax cuts because of the recession. I would argue that similarly McConnell is more in love with war than economic principles.

Posted by: Danp on February 7, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

I think it would have been better to say a massive government jobs program.

Posted by: jayackroyd on February 7, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

World War II actually helped more from selling raw materials to the belligerents before we got in than it did from us being in it. Although, naturally, being in it knocked the shit out of unemployment.

Maybe Mitch would like to start another war? Going after Iran would devastate the shit out of us...take out a whole lot of jobless.

Posted by: slaney black on February 7, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

These folks really want WWIII anyway... they call it armageddon.

Posted by: Buford on February 7, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Better yet, check out Sen. McConnell's record when it comes to government spending in his home state. If he really doesn't think government spending does nothing to help the economy, then I'm sure he wouldn't mind privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority, right?


Posted by: Sean Scallon on February 7, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Because war is awesome. And socialism is bad.

Posted by: dj moonbat on February 7, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans campaign by slogan, as all politicians do, but when they became powerful the leadership enforced the slogans on the whole caucus and drove out all of the moderates who had any non-slogan ideas, and now that's all they can do, repeat the slogans. This is the "party of ideas". They can't even necessarily find the right slogan to fit the occasion, because they don't even understand what the slogans mean.

Posted by: John Emerson on February 7, 2009 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

It's not intellectually honest to say that most economists don't think the public works helped. As for WWII, sort of true in context, but: consider how much extra economic benefit would have come to us, if all that government sponsored work had been consumer goods and services instead of stuff that would blow up in other countries ...

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on February 7, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Sad, but it's evident that the GOP has morphed into a nihlist death cult. Their statements make no sense, they aren't even motivated by a sense of self-preservation. I hope Obama now recognizes this and proceeds accordingly.

Posted by: g. powell on February 7, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Is anyone else concerned that the things we learned in history class in eighth grade and never had an inkling that anyone doubted them are now openly being called into question? And that people throwing them into question have no new analysis or information, just the fact that history is now politically inconvenient to them? And that in a few months, text book authors will be including phrases like, "There is some debate among historians whether stimulus spending helped," and will have questions at the back of the chapter such as, "Essay: Would Hardings tax cuts have gotten us out of the great depression, or were public works needed? There is no right answer, but please support your claims." And another little bit of American history will be lost.

We need to send these revisionists jerks to the animal farm.

Posted by: inkadu on February 7, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Is anyone else concerned that the things we learned in history class in eighth grade and never had an inkling that anyone doubted them are now openly being called into question?

Well, not as such. I'm sure many of the things that I learned in eighth grade history were wrong.

However, the New Deal revisionism we're seeing right now is troubling because they are seeking to re-impose the orthodoxy that LED to the Great Depression, rather than coming up with a new synthesis of the post-Keynesian understanding of How Things Work.

Posted by: dj moonbat on February 7, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

We could apply this same line of logic to virtually all of the GOP Senators' statements about why they "believe" that spending isn't stimulative. What makes them think this? who else, besides other senators also believes this? If their position is so reasonable, why can't they drum up even a little bit of credible expert opinion to back them up?

Posted by: jhm on February 7, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

McConnell never read "The Liberal Hour" by John Kenneth Galbraith, either because he is too stupid to understand it or because he is too cantankerous to care about anything but his own personal interests.
There is not one iota of noblesse oblige in the repugnant!

Posted by: captain dan on February 7, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

FDR's government spending didn't help the economy, but FDR's government spending for a world war did help the economy?

Government spending = money for poor people = bad

Defense spending = welfare for the middle class and pork for the rich = good

That's how Repukes see it. Oh, and blowing up stuff gets them off.

Posted by: PeakVT on February 7, 2009 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Why did WWII help the economy?

85% of the voting public never thinks this deeply about any of this. They just accept that it did work and move on to the next topic, or to ESPN, or Oprah.

Posted by: winner on February 7, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

This is a telling comment from McConnell about republican values. They say the New Deal failed, and the reason why they think it failed is because those programs helped people. Whereas WWII was all about military spending and of course war profiteering. And the republicans weren't opposed to massive spending when it was being pissed away in Iraq and of course they were profiting personally. But now they are opposed to spending that will help people - they won't make any money on that. Same thing.

Posted by: James G on February 7, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

But don't you understand? World War II involved killing people, the all-time favorite activity of Republicans.

Even the cowards back in the rear, with the gear, like Richard Nixon (who spent the war on the backwater of Guadalcanal after thebattles, winning enough at poker to buy a house when he came home), got to be heroes!

Posted by: TCinLA on February 7, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

However, the New Deal revisionism we're seeing right now is troubling because they are seeking to re-impose the orthodoxy that LED to the Great Depression, rather than coming up with a new synthesis of the post-Keynesian understanding of How Things Work.

The truth of history lies in its utility to the Party. When the present needs of the Party change, then history must change to meet the changed needs.

The GOP is the only major Leninist parliamentary party in the West.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on February 7, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

When things are said and done, and we are but dust in the wind, Mitch McConnell's gravestone will be engraved with the appropriate epitaph:

For our Beloved Mitch,

Ignorance is Strength
War is Peace
and Freedom is Slavery

What a fool the dear Senator from Kentucky is! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 7, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I think the assertion that McConnell believes what he's saying gives him far too much credit. He'd have to be an idiot to believe it, and I'm pretty sure he's not--which can only mean that he's a goddamned liar.

If we've learned nothing else from the last eight years, shouldn't we have learned not to call liars liars, instead of endlessly extending them the benefit of the doubt? McConnell is LYING. Graham is LYING. McCain is LYING. We should say it, loud and clear, and so should the Democrats, up to and including the president. To stand idly by or make excuses as Republicans rewrite history is to countenance the worst kind of demagoguery.

Posted by: policomic on February 7, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

But the revisionism just won't work. There's too many people who know differently. People who experienced it, or whose parents did, or whose grandparents did — and now we're approaching, what 100 million or so people? — know what the New Deal did for their family. The logic is pretty inescapable, if people thought the New Deal was a failure as they experienced it, FDR wouldn't have been re-elected.

Many have been able to balance the positive notion of the New Deal with the negative "wasteful government spending" trop, but the New Deal itself maintains stature as "good" government spending. The GOP has been trying to discredit it in various ways since 1932 and they've failed spectacularly every single time.

Even Reagan, who based his entire cult on being against government, gave the New Deal a wide birth and often praised Roosevelt. It just won't work.

Posted by: jay b. on February 7, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

McConnell may be on to something ... but since we're already in two wars against people and it's only burying our economy, how about a war on petroleum dependence? We can fight it just like we did in WWII. We'll ration gas, ration food, encourage victory gardens, create laws against war profiteering, institute a draft for public service, have Rosey the Riveter crank out wind turbines, create an army of solar cells and since "loose lips sink ships" we'll give a big dose of STFU to Limbaugh, et al. Sounds like a plan to get us out of our slump!

Posted by: petorado on February 7, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

There is nothing honest about Mitch. I think he even owes millions on his last campaign.

I live in KY am in the minority who tried to give him unemployment in November

Posted by: effluvientOne on February 7, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

The truble with the responses to McConnell is that he is so obviously wrong about 'now' that it is easy to brush off his comments about 'then.' In fact, the more you look at them, you'll see he is at least somewhat right -- for the wrong reasons.

He's wrong that the New Deal didn't keep our economy alive -- and our democracy. It's hard to imagine now, when both 'solutions' are in the landfill of history, but there were a good number of people who argued, in the thirties, that 'now that Democracy has proved a failure, the future will be either Fascist or Communist, and we have to choose between them.'

But the New Deal worked and saved both, but we weren't all the way back -- as Steve points out -- partially because FDR tried to work in some Republican ideas.

It was the War that did 'finish the job' but the War wasn't run on Republican principles at all. And what the War did was mostly, for two reasons, fuel the "Eisenhower boom" afterwards.

You took fifteen million or so men from the work force. This opened up jobs -- in industry -- for women and blacks who couldn't have gotten them before. (It also, in passing, provided government support, salary, housing, food, etc. for those men.) These women and blacks learned skills and gained actual work experience that gave them jobs after the War, that kept them from leaving the work force.

But it also shut certain industries in America, either because the factories needed to be converted to war work, or because the necessary materials were more needed for war supplies. (And that 'conversion' was not always voluntary patriotism. Roosevelt had almost dictatorial powers over the economy.)

This built up a huge demand for the unavailable consumer goods. (There hadn't been a new car built for five years, or, I believe a refrigerator.) Thus when America returned to a peace footing that demand let us avoid the usual post-War Depression. (And retraining workers wasn't quite the problem it seemed to be.)

Furthermore, the GI Bil helped delay a number of soldiers' return to the 'working world' -- which could have sent even more women and blacks "back where they 'belonged'" (And even though there was some return to the home, a whole generation grew up hearing not just their fathers' 'war stories' but their mothers' as well, and learned that women could do very well in the workplace.)

But it also gave America the most educated work force up to that time, posibly ever. (And the technological inventions developed for the war had peacetime uses as well, and that educated work force helped develop them.) This made that Eisenhower boom possible.

(And no, war profiteering hadn't been a factor in WWII, or at least not as much as in wars before or since. A feisty Senator from Missouri named Truman made sure of that by running a committee to follow that.)

Okay, Mitch, which of these factors that caused the benefits of the war do you want to adopt for the Republicans?
Removal of people from the private sector to work on government jobs -- being a soldier is a government job?
A Congress capable of stopping businessmen from profiting unfairly from the situation?
A new GI Bill -- like the one you guys killed?
A command economy where the government could force industries to shut down or convert to producing goods needed by the war effort?
Rationing of scarce supplies which meant that even if you had money to buy things, you were kept from doing so?

What are you calling for here, Mitch?

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on February 7, 2009 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that both sides miss: During WWII, a vast fraction of the world's productive capacity was destroyed. The boom times that lasted from the late 40's to the mid-90's were based upon rebuilding that capacity and then fulfilling the pent-up demand that had resulted from its lack.

That condition doesn't exist today; if anything, productive capacity now chronically exceeds aggregate demand, pending the ongoing readjustment to a lower level of aggregate demand. This is scary, because it suggests that we're not going to bring supply and demand into balance except at a lower level of economic activity no matter how much stimulation the government funds.

Except for one possibility, and that is to bring the very poor areas of the world, particularly Africa, into the equation. This suggests that we should be spending stimulus money in places like Africa, not only in America. Comments?

Posted by: RonG44 on February 7, 2009 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Mitch: government spending doesn't work, unless it's a huge crap load of spending. So let's spend less.

Posted by: Northzax on February 7, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

"Dean Baker set the record straight last week on FDR's record, as did Paul Krugman a couple of months ago."

And the famous 200-economists-uncluding-3-nobel-laureates set
Krugman straight:

But we solve that problem by pretending that it doesn't exist.

Posted by: am on February 7, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

But we solve that problem by pretending that it doesn't exist.

I'm sorry, did you just cite the Cato Institute -- one of the "think tanks" that drove us into this ditch -- as a reliable source?

That's like relying on the mechanic who neglected to replace your timing belt to fix the resulting damage to your engine.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on February 7, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

The point is that FDR's economic policies failed to revive the economy. What the political economists like Paul Krugman ignore is that WWII was far more than a spending spree, it was a narrowly focused spending spree largely supported by unsustainable borrowings, confiscation of the entire productive economy, resource quotas and price controls. if that is what the Democrats want to pursue then get ready for a swift turnaround alright, in power.

Posted by: Hugh Maguire on February 7, 2009 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

The resources I find tell me that unemployment was 25% when FDR took office.

Even with all the flaws in the execution of pump priming mentioned, FDR cut unemployment by 40%.

Complain if you like about the dismal shape of the economy in 1940, but to say FDR failed????

I suppose tax cuts would have lowered unemployment to 10%? 5? What yarn would you like us to spin?

While we're asking how WWII got us out of the depression if it wasn't the massive spending (narrowly focused and overreaching as it may have been)... Can we ask how Bush managed to tank the economy so badly despite using the favorite economic tools of conservatives?

He kept two wars going for seven years, slashed taxes dramatically and STILL pooched the whole shootin' match.

HOW? What did Bush do wrong that tax cuts and defense spending failed for him where tax increases and defense spending is given such lavish credit by McConnell?

If we could just get a few minutes of follow up (preferably with a liberal dose of sodium pentathol), maybe we could get some bipartisan cooperation going here.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 7, 2009 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

To say that FDR was not a horrible failure is ludicrous. For eight years he had milions of farm animals slaughtered(to keep food prices up despite the fact that people were starving), set gold prices according to whim,jailed business owners who dared to set services lower,neglected the south (as they voted democratic anyhow),hurt blacks as unions were given unsurpassed power(unions did not allow blacks), tried to pack the supreme court after they ruled that many of his programs were unconstitutional, and on and on.WW11 took 9-11 million men and women into service which paid $30 per month(but they were employed??)But it wasn't WW11 that officially ended the depression...only after the war and FDR'S programs desisted that the GDP took a permanet upturn.Much like Lincoln the legend lives on and the truth is dismissed.But today's public deserve to know the massive damage that the "new deal" inflicted on america for over twelve years.

Posted by: jwwalker on February 8, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Some of you seriously need to get a clue.

FDR was elected four times. FOUR FUCKING TIMES.

If the American people were really as bad off as some of you say, then wouldn't the electorate back then have dumped Roosevelt's ass by, say, the 1940 election?

But I guess the American people were either just too stupid (or just too happy to suck at the teat of the newly-created welfare state) to realize how FDR was ruining the country for generations.

Unlike the great braintrust nowadays who pass on bullshit revisionism about what "really happened" in the 1930s.

Posted by: 2Manchu on February 8, 2009 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK



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