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About Time

UCLA economists have calculated how long FDR extended the Great Depression. Seven years.

Roosevelt's role in lifting the nation out of the Great Depression has been so revered that Time magazine readers cited it in 1999 when naming him the 20th century's second-most influential figure.

"This is exciting and valuable research," said Robert E. Lucas Jr., the 1995 Nobel Laureate in economics, and the John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. "The prevention and cure of depressions is a central mission of macroeconomics, and if we can't understand what happened in the 1930s, how can we be sure it won't happen again?"

..."The fact that the Depression dragged on for years convinced generations of economists and policy-makers that capitalism could not be trusted to recover from depressions and that significant government intervention was required to achieve good outcomes," Cole said. "Ironically, our work shows that the recovery would have been very rapid had the government not intervened."

Remember this the next time someone talks about a new "New Deal." The myth of Roosevelt is akin with the current idiotic nonsense being promulgated by Democrats that the financial crisis was a result of "deregulation."

[Update about 9 AM EDT]

Sebastian Mallaby has a nice corrective to the "deregulation" nonsense:

The key financiers in this game were not the mortgage lenders, the ratings agencies or the investment banks that created those now infamous mortgage securities. In different ways, these players were all peddling financial snake oil, but as Columbia University's Charles Calomiris observes, there will always be snake-oil salesmen. Rather, the key financiers were the ones who bought the toxic mortgage products. If they hadn't been willing to buy snake oil, nobody would have been peddling it.

Who were the purchasers? They were by no means unregulated. U.S. investment banks, regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, bought piles of toxic waste. U.S. commercial banks, regulated by several agencies, including the Fed, also devoured large quantities. European banks, which faced a different and supposedly more up-to-date supervisory scheme, turn out to have been just as rash. By contrast, lightly regulated hedge funds resisted buying toxic waste for the most part -- though they are now vulnerable to the broader credit crunch because they operate with borrowed money.

If that doesn't convince you that deregulation is the wrong scapegoat, consider this: The appetite for toxic mortgages was fueled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the super-regulated housing finance companies. Calomiris calculates that Fannie and Freddie bought more than a third of the $3 trillion in junk mortgages created during the bubble and that they did so because heavy government oversight obliged them to push money toward marginal home purchasers. There's a vigorous argument about whether Calomiris's number is too high. But everyone concedes that Fannie and Freddie poured fuel on the fire to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

As he points out, it's important to understand the actual cause, because if we misdiagnose the disease, we're likely to come up with nostrums that make it worse, just as FDR's "brain trust" did. And that's exactly the path we're on with Obama. McCain may make similar mistakes, but with him, at least it's not a sure thing.

[Mid-morning update]

Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts on the upcoming speculative bubble in regulation. I agree that we need to design the system to be much more fault tolerant.


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Karl Hallowell wrote:

It also explains the economic explosion that came out of the end of the Second World War. As I see it, the real change was that in order to competently fight, the US had to reverse most of FDR's anti-competitive policies. As I see it, this is the main source of the "war is good for the economy" myth.

Jardinero1 wrote:

There wasn't an economic explosion after WWII. There were a series of recessions punctuated by ho hum economic growth throughout the forties and fifties. The economy didn't grow more consistently and rapidly until the sixties.

Mike wrote:

FDR, and his advisers, all believed the "Depression" was caused be the over-capacity of the manufacturing sector.

PeterH wrote:

The push for elevated wages implicated in worsening the Great Depression sounds a lot like what the Wallmart bashers are pushing for. Higher wages are at best meaningless if prices rise in proportion. Worse, rising wages push unemployment, and hurt competitiveness on the international market.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on October 7, 2008 5:43 AM.

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