Friday, February 20, 2009

Reich Defends The New Deal

The other day, I discussed why conservative talking points about the New Deal were absurd. But of course Robert Reich can do it much more eloquently.

1. The New Deal relieved a great deal of suffering by establishing social safety nets -- Unemployment Insurance, Aid for Dependent Children, and Social Security for retirees. Most have remained, a worthy legacy. But because the structure of the economy has changed (a much higher percentage of the working population is now employed part-time in several jobs or as independent contractors, for example), there are gaping holes in the safety net which a New New Deal should fill in order that the Mini Depression we're experiencing not cause excessive harm.

2. FDR's public works spending did help the economy somewhat. By 1936, U.S. the economy was showing some life. Unemployment was declining and consumers were beginning to buy. But FDR cut back on public-works spending, and the economy sank back into its former torpor. A warning to Obama: Don't worry about so-called "fiscal responsibility" when aggregate demand still falls far short of the economy's total capacity.

3. The Second World War pulled the nation out of the Great Depression because it required that government spend on such a huge scale as to restart the nation's factories, put Americans back to work, and push the nation toward its productive capacty. By the end of the war, most Americans were better off than they were before its start. Yes, the national debt ballooned to 120 percent of GDP. But the debt-GDP ratio subsequently declined -- not just because post-war spending dropped but because the economy continued to grow as war production converted to the production of consumer goods. Lesson: The danger isn't too much stimulus, it's too little stimulus.