A Rule of Reason Book Review: New Deal or Raw Deal?

Good reading:

Burton Folsom’s New Deal or Raw Deal? is a timely, informative and captivating read on the destructive economic policies on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration. This book is a valuable addition to the growing number of books on how government intervention, not free markets, plunged the United States deep into the Great Depression.

Folsom corrects many common misconceptions about the New Deal and the Great Depression in this book. The first is that President Hoover was a big government Republican and not a principled advocate of laissez-faire capitalism. Consider the Smoot-Hawley Act, which imposed unprecedented tariffs on thousands of imported items. Not only did this drastically increase the prices of U.S. imports (hurting U.S. consumers), but it also encouraged European nations to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports (hurting U.S. producers.) Furthermore, Hoover responded to the early onset of the Great Depression with disastrous economic regulations. He endorsed the Federal Farm Board, which issued over $500 million in cotton and wheat subsidies only to have the massive surpluses dumped on an oversaturated world market. Hoover also supposed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which spent over $1.5 billion on bailouts to failing banks and industries. (Sound familiar?)

Another major point of Folsom’s book is that many of FDR’s programs were struck down as unconstitutional. These include the National Industrial Recovery Act (later shortened to NRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). The NRA imposed economy-wide price controls and production regulations on domestic manufacturing. The AAA was similar in spirit, except it focused on price and production controls on agriculture. The extent of the controls evidently became so detailed where, for example, the purchasers of a live chicken were required by law to blindly reach into the coop to randomly choose a chicken. Customers were not free to choose whichever chicken they fancied. Recognizing the absurdity of this, one of the Supreme Court justices quipped “what if the chickens are all on the other side?” before the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the NRA unconstitutional.

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