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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

America's Henry VIII

Folsom Jr., Burton.  New Deal Or Raw Deal? New York:  Threshold Editions, 2008.

Schlaes, Amity.  The Forgotten Man:  A New History of the Great Depression. New York:  
       Harper Collins, 2007.

       Just as how Henry VIII was the greatest revolutionary in British history, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the greatest revolutionary in American history.  Henry VIII dispossessed both the Catholic Church and individual Catholics.  He then used the ill-gotten gains to enrich a new British aristocracy.  In a similar way, FDR picked economic winners and losers.  Those who blocked or failed to cooperate with the NRA and other New Deal programs were targeted for destruction.  For example, Henry Ford refused to sign the NRA code.  The NRA was intended to keep prices artificially high, on the dubious economic theory that this would keep wages high (apparently unaware that even if this happened, it would increase unemployment).  The Roosevelt Administration refused to buy vehicles from Ford, even though it meant spending more (Folsom, 53).
       The Roosevelt Administration set out to manage public opinion in ways no previous president ever had.  In a move reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, FDR created the Federal Communications Commission, and required radio stations to renew their licenses every six months (Folsom, 234).  Radio stations carrying critics of FDR were unlikely to have their licenses renewed.  FDR was the first president to have a press secretary.  Journalist Lorena Hicks was hired to "cover" the FERA, and to promote the New Deal to other journalists (Folsom, 225).  Journalist Arthur Krock commented that FDR had unparalleled success in suppressing negative news stories (Folsom, 225).  Press never mentioned or showed FDR's disability.  Pictures of Eleanor Roosevelt were altered to make her more attractive (Folsom, 226).  The press also refrained from pointing out FDR's marriage was a sham (Folsom, 227).  Robert McCormick's Chicago Tribune, the most anti-Roosevelt newspaper in America, never dared broach the subject of FDR's well-known mistress Lucy Mercer (Folsom, 227).  Even when he started an affair with Norwegian Princess Martha they kept mum (Folsom, 228)!  Journalist Thomas Stokes ended up in the doghouse by pointing out that WPA employees were encouraged to campaign on the job during the 1936 election (Folsom, 230-31).
       Henry VIII took control over the Church (which actually violated the Magna Carta).  In a similar way, FDR did his best to alter American attitudes towards the role of the Federal government and the U.S. Constitution.  He did this by permanently altering the way agriculture functions, the enactment of the welfare state, and attacking traditional constitutional jurisprudence.
       The Roosevelt Administration thought that the forces of supply and demand should not determine commodity prices.  The concept of "parity" was created;  the agricultural commodity prices of 1910 were established as baseline prices, and it was arbitrarily decided that commodity prices in 1932 should be double what they were in 1910 (Folsom, 60).  Decreased production costs between 1910 and 1932 were never taken into account (Folsom, 64).  Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts pointed out that by the logic of the AAA, the government should pay shoe manufacturers not to make shoes in order to raise shoe prices (Folsom, 64).  In addition, unlike PWA/WPA, farm programs were not contingencies to deal with the Depression, but were intended to be permanent (Folsom, 65).  Economist Henry Hazlitt pointed out that if the parity concept from the farm program were applied to the auto industry, instead of cars costing $907 (as they did) in 1942, they should have cost $3270 (Folsom, 63)!  Most people think items costing less as technology develops is a good thing--the New Deal did not.
       The welfare state emerged with public works relief, and later, Social Security.  The PWA/WPA became a system of Tammany Hall-style patronage.  As a condition of employment, New Jersey WPA workers were expected to contribute to the Democratic Party (Folsom, 87).  Democrats were more likely to receive WPA work (Folsom, 86).  This system of patronage combined with the farm programs to elect a monolithic Democratic government, where the only resistant branch was the Court of King's Bench.  After all, WPA patronage was the reason for a Democratic Congress (Folsom, 171).  And as far as farm programs were concerned, the 3% of counties that received no AAA benefits were carried by Alf Landon in 1936 (Folsom, 188).
       Woodrow Wilson considered the Constitution and Declaration of Independence out-dated and irrelevant (Folsom, 255).  And like Wilson, FDR was a proponent of a "living constitution (Folsom, 256)."  The New Deal considered good intentions as justifying court packing and other violations of separation of powers (Folsom, 257).
         FDR surrogates Robert Allen and Drew Pearson furthered the court packing scheme through their scurrilous book The Nine Old Men. Examples of the abuse heaped upon a coequal branch of government are the pair's description of Willis Van Devanter as "The Dummy Director" and their declaration that George Sutherland had no brains (Schlaes, 273).
       FDR's plan for economic recovery was based on the idea that the Depression was caused by factors not borne out by the statistical record.  The theory was that wealth was  concentrated in too few hands, and that the public was not consuming enough.  These mistaken economic theories were served by a demonization of businessmen.  Roosevelt pioneered class warfare as a political strategy, condemning "great malefactors of wealth" and "economic royalists."  The New Deal tampered with the value of bonds, precious metals, and the currency.  The economic uncertainty that resulted meant that investors were hesitant to invest money given that taxes would swallow any potential profits.  FDR then prevented the expansion of industry by instituting the world's only undistributed profits tax (Folsom, 250).
       The Obama-era IRS scandal was part of a long tradition that originated with FDR, who used the tax system to punish the recalcitrant.  Business adversaries Andrew Mellon and Samuel Insull were singled out by the IRS;  especially Mellon, as he was the poster boy for the less-taxed 20s.  Black Republican celebrities Joe Louis and Jesse Owens were targeted for their politics (Folsom, 210).  "Nucky" Johnson, a Republican city boss, was investigated by the IRS, but somehow the equally criminal Democratic city boss Frank Hague went unscathed (Folsom, 155).  Republican Congressman Hamilton Fish was harassed by the IRS;  so was William Randolph Hearst (Folsom, 152).  Incompletely fawning journalists were often investigated by the IRS (Folsom, 231).
       Perhaps the thing that has most cemented the reputation of the New Deal has been the army of historians who overlook facts such as that in 1931 unemployment was 16.3%, and in 1939 it was 17.2% (Folsom, 2).  Results (or the lack thereof) never mattered to David Kennedy, William Leuchtenburg, or Arthur Schlesinger.  If any in this academic cadre admitted FDR failed in some way, it would hurt their reputation (Folsom, 253).  George McJimsey ignores the corrupt patronage aspects of Harry Hopkins and his WPA (Folsom, 259).
      In conclusion, England was forever altered by Henry VIII.  America was just as permanently changed by the Roosevelt years.  American politics will always be contaminated by the public's expectation for a payout.

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