NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lessons from the Great Depression

November 3, 2003

The Great Depression remains the central economic event in American history. Even today, politicians invoke its memory. For example, Democrats routinely accuse George W. Bush of having economic policies like those of Herbert Hoover, on whose watch the depression began. Given its horrendous effects, accusing anyone of threatening a replay is about as nasty a charge that can be made in politics, according to Bruce Bartlett.

To try and throw off the legacy of Hoover and eliminate the stigma of causing the Great Depression, some conservatives have sought ways of identifying with Roosevelt. Now, conservative publisher Conrad Black has come forward with a new book, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom (Public Affairs, 2003), arguing that Roosevelt was fundamentally a conservative, too.

Black gave a flavor of his argument in an Oct. 29 Wall Street Journal article. The gist of it is that the threat of political revolution in the 1930s is underappreciated:

  • The U.S. could easily have gone the way of many European countries toward state socialism of either the communist or fascist variety.
  • Roosevelt's New Deal kept them at bay, preserving political freedom and the essence of a market economy.

This is actually a familiar argument, although not one that has been made by a conservative before, says Bartlett.

As the United States definitely emerges from its tenth postwar recession, Republicans and Democrats are essentially arguing the same question: did Bush's policies make it better or worse? Next year, voters will decide. A better understanding of the Great Depression and New Deal may help them do so, says Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Lessons From the Great Depression," National Center for Policy Analysis, November 3, 2003.


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