March Forth! New Weekend Open Thread!

Today is not only the parade or martial counterpart of Star Wars‘s annual “May the Fourth” celebration; as our friend Mark Daniels helpfully pointed out on Facebook, it’s also the 90th anniversary of the first inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That makes it also the 90th anniversary of this oratory:

This is more than the short clip you usually hear. His swearing-in is at the 1:00 mark; his inaugural address begins at 1:50 and its most famous sentence begins almost a minute later.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

But please — don’t stop there (at the 3:33 mark)! The next 16-plus minutes are well worth hearing, including tasty tidbits like this:

  • The next minute is given to what could literally have been a description of the first year of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 (loss of employment from which lasted through 2016), which economist Robert Kuttner describes as the ‘Great Deflation.”
  • Starting at 5:00: “Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in sight of the supply. Primarily, it is because the rules of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated.” YOW!
  • At 5:25: “Practices of the unscrupulous moneychangers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True, they have tried, but their measures have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by a failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit with which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortation, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision. And when there is no vision, the people perish.”
  • At 6:15: “Yes the moneychangers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple, per the ancient truth.”
  • At 6:35: “The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values, more noble than mere monetary profit. Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joys of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort, the joy and moral stimulation of work, no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profit.
  • Skipping from 7:00 to 7:40, we reach: “There must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance. Without them, it cannot live.”
  • “Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. It calls for action — and action now! Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”

And then he puts forward proposals for direct government hiring. I’ll stop there, just before the 9:00 mark — but there are more goodies and you should go on. You may want to ask yourself why it is that we hear essentially nothing about this speech except the obviously false as a general rule, though perhaps more true at that specific moment, that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

One thing you’ll hear is his presuming (heh-heh) that Congress will grant him the executive powers he would have during wartime to deal with this sort of crisis, a recognition of the expansion of executive power that around a two-thirds of a century later would be abused by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush in a much less existential crisis for the country.

It is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.

But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis–broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

Misty water-colored memories of the way we were….

One reason this strikes me so hard is that not only does this remind me of 2008’s Great Deflation, but it also reminds me of an additional similar event: the Great Avoided Recession of 2021. That was the one that started in 2020 — the “Ivermectin Era” — and much manufacturing and transportation froze up, like an unprimed pump, during the “Supply Line Era.” This was actually a economic shock comparable to that of 2008 — loss of 101,400) jobs (3.34%) in 2020 compared to 138,100 (5.08%) in 2008 — see this chart of post-Depression job growth changes. But while the 2008 drop was followed by a loss of an additional 159,700 jobs (6.19%) in 2009, despite it being further away from the fundamental cause of the problem than 2020 was, the 2020 loss was followed by an increase of 127,000 jobs (4.33%) in 2021, and another increase of 93,700 jobs (3.06%) in 2022. (The only reason that 2023 may be worse is that the Federal Reserve is practically stomping on the job market’s neck to hold down further job growth, for fear of inflation.)

The difference between FDR’s approach and Biden’s is that FDR had people do productive things — Civilian Conservation Corps, Tennessee Valley Authority, Public Works Administration, Civil Works Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration (all in 1933, with more to follow in 1935!) — while Biden paid them essentially to purchase goods (and sometimes services) and stay where they would not get sick. The improvement in employment would have been even higher if not for the shortages caused by manufacturers and vendors having gone out of business — which would have been an even worse problem had we had another year of denial and neglect like 2020 — but as it was federal spending kept the manufacturing system working rather than letting it seize up.

The achievement of keeping the economy from seizing up simply didn’t happen by itself: it was the product of conscious choices, narrowly enacted legislation, and hard work in the face of widespread media disdain. This was the difference between keeping the economy’s pump primed — people continued to work (after a fashion) and to receive spending money even if they didn’t — and letting it collapse to the point where we’d have to start again from nearly a complete halt. That was the counsel of Biden’s critics.

Keeping the economy from seizing was an amazing accomplishment, harking back directly to the spirit and principles of FDR’s inaugural. It’s one reason that Biden, despite his (largely Eisenhower-like) flaws, may seriously be judged by history as one of our best post-Depression Presidents, even if he serves only one term. (Maybe even especially if….)

And that, for better or worse, is your long-awaited Weekend Open Thread. Talk about that or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of discretion and decorum.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)