How was it that FDR was elected four times if his policies were deepening and prolonging an economic catastrophe? Ignorance and a willingness to give the president the benefit of the doubt explain a lot. Roosevelt beat Hoover in 1932 with promises of less government. He instead gave Americans more government, but he did so with fanfare and fireside chats that mesmerized a desperate people. By the time they began to realize that his policies were harmful, World War II came, the people rallied around their commander-in-chief, and there was little desire to change the proverbial horse in the middle of the stream by electing someone new.
Along with the holocaust of World War II came a revival of trade with America's allies. The war's destruction of people and resources did not help the U.S. economy, but this renewed trade did. A reinflation of the nation's money supply counteracted the high costs of the New Deal, but brought with it a problem that plagues us to this day: a dollar that buys less and less in goods and services year after year. Most importantly, the Truman administration that followed Roosevelt was decidedly less eager to berate and bludgeon private investors and as a result, those investors re-entered the economy and fueled a powerful postwar boom. The Great Depression finally ended, but it should linger in our minds today as one of the most colossal and tragic failures of government and public policy in American history.
The genesis of the Great Depression lay in the irresponsible monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These policies included a litany of political missteps: central bank mismanagement, trade-crushing tariffs, incentive-sapping taxes, mind-numbing controls on production and competition, senseless destruction of crops and cattle and coercive labor laws, to recount just a few. It was not the free market that produced 12 years of agony; rather, it was political bungling on a grand scale.
Those who can survey the events of the 1920s and 1930s and blame free-market capitalism for the economic calamity have their eyes, ears and minds firmly closed to the facts. Changing the wrong-headed thinking that constitutes much of today's conventional wisdom about this sordid historical episode is vital to reviving faith in free markets and preserving our liberties.
The nation managed to survive both Hoover's activism and Roosevelt's New Deal quackery, and now the American heritage of freedom awaits a rediscovery by a new generation of citizens. This time we have nothing to fear but myths and misconceptions.