Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Great Depression & the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction

The Great Depression & the New Deal by Eric Rauchway
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Jul 27, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, economics
Read in August, 2011

When George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it," he must have been thinking about the sorts of political leaders we have today (2011) as Republicans and some Democrats seem determined to repeat the errors of that earlier time. Those who espouse looking forward only, it can usually be seen, are eager to avoid responsibility for what lies behind. And so it is today. Looking backward, or learning from experience, is what intelligent people do, in order to attempt to better understand extant conditions, and better evaluate ways of overcoming difficulties. In the current economic climate, what better place to cast one’s rearward gaze than the Great Depression.

The Great Depression & The New Deal is hardly a comprehensive look at one of the darkest episodes in American history, but it offers a very nice summary indeed. It tells of various New Deal programs, their derivations, their purposes and some of the political wrangling and compromises that were infused into ther DNA. There were things in the book that I found fascinating, if a bit alarming. FDR, this icon of 20th century liberalism, began with a fairly conservative perspective. I was not aware that many local governments delayed or even repudiated their debt obligations. The way we’re going these days, with demand-free, cut-only recovery programs, it would not surprise me to see that happen again.

The intention of the book is fairly straight ahead information provision, with no obvious partisan view in evidence. And it does a pretty good job of not only covering the broad strokes of what was going on during this time, but offering a look at underlying issues, and some of the history of what brought on the madness. Good stuff, and a definite spur for further investigation. It abets this by providing a considerable bibliography of recommended reading.

Failure to cast a glance into the rear-view mirror could be fatal, if one cannot be bothered keeping track of the semi that is barreling down one’s lane with dark intent. This small volume gives readers a small mirror to help stave off disaster.
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message 1: by Will (last edited Jul 22, 2016 09:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Here are some quotes from the book

26 – Hoover relied heavily on the idea of “intelligent cooperation.” He saw himself as a cheerleader to American enterprise, not as a referee, coach, or player in the economy: he would call for teamwork, and hope to see it produced. He invited important figures in American industry to meet, asking them to reason together, planning how to keep the crash from turning into a depression. He urged employers not to cut wages, and they agreed to cooperate. Hoover went further still in his requests, asking state and local polioticians to hasten and augment their spending on roads and other public works, believing that in various government treasuries there lay “a substantial reserve for prompt expanded action.”

None of these strategies required much action from the federal government, beyond uttering the occasional encouraging phrase. None provided any immediate relief to Americans. None cost the federal government money. All depended on people outside Washington DC to stop the disaster. None worked…Tax revenue fell and the bill for local relief rose. These two draining effects on local budgets forced local governmens, by the hundreds, to delay, if not repudiate, their debt payments.

32 – Consumers spent cautiously when they had no confidence, and hardly at all when they had no jobs. Businesses that depended on consumers’ continued confident borrowing suffered. As James Farrell, the president of the United States Steel Company, told a congressional hearing late in 1931, “it is difficult to create business beyond the demand of buyers.” And as businesses laid off their workers, fewer and fewer consumers had money to spend.

84 – As one observer complained, NRA codes looked like “a bargain between business leaderson one hand and businessmen in the guise of government officials on the other.

94 – The Roosevelt administration did work to redistribute wealth, just not through tax policy. Instead it wanted the market to work more equitably, to allot to workers and consumers higher wages without government’s direct intervention. To achieve this end the New Deal fostered the growth of worker and consumer organizations empowered to bargain collectively, and therefor more effectively, for a better deal in the marketplace.


message 2: by Margitte (new)

Margitte History is not to be learnt from, it's to be leeched from by ruthless people. Jail is often regarded as the university for criminals. History poses this function for the ambitious and the power hungry. Love your review!


Will Byrnes Well said, Margitte. At least one of our presidential candidates seems to have learned lessons from history that are of the wrong sort. Having studied the speeches of Adolph Hitler, he has improved his already considerable powers of persuasion, to dark ends. What he has learned is not how to steer the ship away from icebergs but to persuade his followers that if he is made captain he will magically gain the power to make the icebergs go away. The USA is at a crucial point in history, in which there is a real possibility that the nation could steer hard starboard and repeat many of the catastrophic errors that such turns cause.


message 4: by Lilo (last edited Jul 22, 2016 10:11PM) (new)

Lilo Will, you and I have been forecasting doom ever since the run for the White House started again, a year ago. And I sincerely hope that we both are wrong and reason will prevail (i.e. Hillary will win the election).

The Republicans, obviously, have not learned from history; otherwise, they would have disqualified Trump instead of making him their 2016 Presidential candidate.

Why don't people see that a vulgar, intelligence-deprived, power-craving, belligerent megalomaniac, whose only talents are to sell "snake oil" and to unify the stupid masses, can only be a catastrophe as the leader of the Western World?

Can't they see that anybody who claims to have simple solutions for complicated matters and who promises everybody everything cannot possibly deliver?

This charlatanism worked for Hitler. Yet wouldn't one think that Americans of the 21st century would be smarter than Germans of the 1920s and 1930s, who had no respective history to learn from and who, all in all, had less chances to educate themselves?


Will Byrnes wouldn't one think that Americans of the 21st century would be smarter than Germans of the 1920s and 1930s
Apparently not


Percy Jackson/Swastik Nandy woah... reciprocated in beautiful words...


message 7: by Christy (new)

Christy Hammer Excellent review, Will! The U.S. is in dire need of another New Deal, Great Works program, WPA, CCC, and returning the GI Bill to the benefits level of after WWII. This is the only way to stem the tide of the shrinking middle class.


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