Summers Way Off on FDR and 1941
By David Henderson
But for Hitler and the military buildup up he caused, FDR would have left office in early 1941 a failure, with American unemployment above 15 percent.
This is from Lawrence Summers, “More Stimulus Needed For Jobs Crisis,” in the Huffington Post, June 13, 2011. This article is Larry’s attempt to justify large increases in government spending to increase employment. There is a huge factual problem with Larry’s statement.
Larry is assuming that there was a big military build-up in 1940. 1941 doesn’t count because the election that, by his hypothesis, would have driven FDR from office was in November 1940. But there was no big military build-up in 1940. Alexander Field, in his book, A Great Leap Forward, points out that even with a broad measure of military spending that includes Lend-Lease and the government’s Defense Plan Corporation, a subsidiary of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, spending in 1940 and 1941 was only 5 percent of the cumulative defense spending that occurred between 1940 and 1945. And certainly 1941 spending wasn’t below 1940 spending. Which means that military spending in 1940 was less than 2.5 percent of overall military spending between 1940 and 1945.
Update: In response to Alex Godofsky’s comment below, the military build-up was unexpected. Remember that FDR ran on a policy–he told a Boston audience in October 1940 that he had said it before but he would say it “again and again and again”–of not getting American boys into any foreign war. Majority opinion in the United States ran strongly against getting into the war. Critics of FDR, after he had won a 4th term in 1944, referred to him as the president who was re-elected “again and again and again.” 🙂