Barack Obama may be basking in the early and frequent comparisons to Franklin Delano Roosevelt — but then, the president-elect probably hasn’t read Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.
According to Shlaes — and contrary to conventional wisdom — Roosevelt’s push for nationalization drove the United States deeper into the Depression and gummed up the wheels of our economy. FDR’s effort to nationalize utilities kept the South without electricity for most of the thirties; his vengeful prosecution of successful industrialists cowed the private sector into paralysis; his National Recovery Act generated 10,000 pages of new federal law (more than the entire output of the preceding 144 years) and created a crippling bureaucracy. And according to Shlaes, Roosevelt wildly overstepped his powers to do it. Though the New Dealer’s version of “Yes we can!” was more strident and bullying than Obama’s, Shlaes’s logic suggests that in laying out his economic strategy, our president-elect should remember the following: Just because you can enact sweeping changes doesn’t mean you should.
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