By Bryan Caplan
Brad thinks it’s a little crazy for me to compare Roosevelt to Mugabe:
To get to somebody willing to argue that the entire New Deal taken as a whole made things worse, you have to go to somebody like Arnold’s intelligent and energetic co-blogger Bryan Caplan, who writes:
>[Robert] Mugabe has made people afraid to invest in Zimbabwe. Why should [Brad] doubt that – on a smaller scale, of course – Roosevelt made people afraid to invest in the U.S.?
And I think that I am safe in classifying somebody who sees Robert Mugabe as Franklin Roosevelt writ large as not entirely normal.
I can see someone finding my claim a little crazy. But I think I can make it more plausible.
Think about it this way: Out of all the presidents the U.S. has ever had, which one had the scariest rhetoric and policies from the point of view of investors and the rich? As far as I can tell, Franklin Roosevelt is clearly at the top of the list by a wide margin. Who else is even in the running? Cousin Teddy? He was a lot more balanced, and the country wasn’t in a crisis.
Note: To buy my argument, you don’t have to think that Roosevelt really did pose a serious threat to investors and the rich. All you have to think is that investors and the rich were in fact scared by him.
In evaluating my claim, it’s vital to avoid hindsight bias, to imagine that whatever happened was obvious before it happened. We know that Roosevelt didn’t expropriate the rich. But how secure could the rich have felt on the March 4, 1933, when he gave his First Inaugural Address?
Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
If Brad had been living through the New Deal era, and belonged to one of these classes, he probably would have been scared too. Personally, I would have been looking around for a way to convert my assets into gold.