Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Schechters in the Sick Chicken case star in a new book that criticizes FDR on the Depression

The butchers in Schechter Poultry v. United States (1935) are the heroes of a new book on the Great Depression, writes David Leonart in the New York Times today. Readers will like the links to original NY Times stories with the on-line review. They include the NYT story about the Schechters' indictment, Arthur Krock's coverage of the Supreme Court's Schechter decision, and a follow-up interview with Joseph Schechter, who said that the $60,000 legal battle had "ruined him."
Leonart writes that Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (HarperCollins),
is somewhat more subtle than the usual critique from the right. She sees both Roosevelt and his Republican predecessor Herbert Hoover as inveterate economic tinkerers. Hoover, the engineer turned politician, never lost his instinct to fix things and, as a result, signed the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariff bill. His biggest sin, and Roosevelt’s, was a “lack of faith in the marketplace,” Shlaes writes. “From 1929 to 1940, from Hoover to Roosevelt, government intervention helped to make the Depression Great.”
The book opens in 1937, eight years after the stock market crash, with a story about another Brooklyn resident, a 13-year-old boy named William Troeller, who hanged himself in his bedroom one evening. His father was unemployed, and William, as a New York Times headline reported, “Was Reluctant About Asking for Food.” For all the frenzied activity of Roosevelt’s first term, the country had yet to emerge from its slump. It wouldn’t fully do so until the war spending of the 1940s.

The length of the Depression is one of Shlaes’s two main criticisms of the New Deal....The great challenge for [Roosevelt's] critics has always been to come up with an alternate vision that might plausibly be said to have done more good with fewer downsides....
In a way, Shlaes’s book has come just a little after its time. In the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency, conservative critiques of the New Deal served a larger political purpose, as a rationale for the administration’s attempts to remake Social Security. Those plans failed, of course, mostly because they found little support among voters.
The full review is here.

Update: Nate Oman, Patrick O'Donnell and others carried on an interesting discussion of Shleas, FDR and more at Concurring Opinions recently.