Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The New Deal" by Michael Hiltzik

Reviewing this book is a difficult task, simply because it is so well researched and detailed. While I cannot say that I understood every word in it, I can say that this is one of the most complete pictures of the Great Depression, and what we did to get out of it. I had expected the book to be more of a comparison to what was done about the failing economy then, to what hasn't been done now, during the current economic downturn. But it's not. It's an absolutely unbiased account of what ideas were tried, which ones failed, and which ones were challenged by the Supreme Court.

The credit driven 1920's, with it's burgeoning car loans, made in the same ill concieved manner as the housing bubble decades later, began a period of consumer over confidence. This over confidence, along with reckless speculation drove the price of gold up from it's standard of $20 per ounce, thus devaluing the dollar. As the dollar shrank, so did jobs, investments and everything that goes with it.

Bank passbooks were offered for sale at 50 cents on the dollar during the "bank holidays", the idea being that if your bank didn't make it, you would at least have some cash on hand. Meanwhile, the person buying the account stood a chance to double his money. The banks, and the percentages being paid for their respective passbooks, were actually listed alongside of the stocks in the newspaperes of some cities.

Crops were plowed under, in an effort to make them more profitable, and cattle were slaughtered for the same reason. Nothing seemed to work. The banks were repeatedly bailed out, but like today, that approach only seemed to prolong the problem. The idea that business would carry the country through to renewed prosperity didn't work then, and isn't working now.

Roosevelt inherited a nation as divided as we are today, and through trial and error, was able to get the country back on it's feet, just in time for the Second World War. If there is something that seems familiar here, or any lesson to be learned from this book, it is one of deja vu. We have all been here before.

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