Crisis and Liberty: The Expansion of Government Power in American History

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Crisis and Liberty: Lecture 6

  • Crisis and Liberty Seminar

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06/25/2003Robert Higgs

The New Deal was not as widely popular as many stories about FDR might suggest. The Depression began about midway through 1929. Prices fell for four years. Unemployment was as high as it had ever been, and for a long time. Construction work disappeared.

Many Americans thought that it was wrong to go on the government dole. But most became willing to change both this moral view and their character. Many were desperate by the time FDR took office and the New Deal was put into practice. They felt the market machine was busted and only the government could now provide for them.

The New Deal is not a logical, coherent thing. Many of the programs warred with each other. FDR’s braintruster was a wannabe communist. He wanted central planning of everything. Many strange bedfellows appeared. Bernard Baruch convinced many that WWI had been a successful government project and that the New Deal was another fine project. He felt that raising pricing – or reflation – or restricting supply - was a solution. That policy was guaranteed to fail.

Much government activity, that had only been local, was now centralized at the Federal level like welfare and relief. Many farmers became debtors and required mortgage relief. Businessmen clamored for bailouts. The National Industrial Recovery Act imposed 750 codes binding businesses to cut competition. The NIRA was declared unconstitutional in 1935.The vitality of markets had been killed just like industry under Mussolini.

A great number of the New Deal programs had to do with finance. Gold was nationalized in 1933. Bank holidays were declared. Other programs had to do with labor and labor unions.

The New Deal scared the investor class so badly that net investment was negative for a decade.

Bibliography (PDF):

Lecture 6 of 10 from Robert Higgs' Crisis and Liberty: The Expansion of Government Power in American History.


Robert Higgs

Dr. Robert Higgs is retired and lives in Mexico. He was a senior fellow in political economy for the Independent Institute and longtime editor of The Independent Review; he was also a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. He is the 2007 recipient of the Gary G. Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty, and the 2015 Murray N. Rothbard Medal of Freedom.

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