Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Conveniently Neglected

FDR's New Deal imposed nearly a decade of legislation that generated a net improvement for our national economy. These policies, while occasionally flawed, had the general effect of improving our national standing.

In this painfully one-sided debate, one cannot help but to call foul on several conveniently neglected details that could put this discussion into perspective. We are, of course, viewing a debate of economics, but it is unreasonable to exclude these forces from consideration. I felt that the discussion was too focused on textbook economics and disconnected from the diverse interrelationships involved in most New Deal legislation.

The debate gave passing mention to the Tennessee Valley Authority, Hoover Dam, and other infrastructure and public works projects. Mr. Reed is fond of noting the audacity of government creating jobs. Certainly we should not dig and refill holes to create jobs, but it would be prudent to note that the infrastructure commissioned in the New Deal legislation is still with us today. The eastern tributaries of the Mississippi river support agricultural irrigation where unpredictable floods once ravaged towns, and the Las Vegas area is as electrified and hydrated as we have come to expect. The courthouses and schools commissioned during the New Deal are smaller but equally relevant examples of the necessary construction that happened to use cheap labor. I find it interesting that these public works projects are blamed for prolonging the Great Depression while the construction of the Interstate Highway System is applauded as an intelligent allocation of government resources. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I am of the view that improvements which allow a more efficient society are beneficial to the public; the use of inexpensive labor seems to only improve the desirability of these projects.

On a different topic raised in the debate, I feel that Mr. Reed conveniently neglects to define the purpose of the Civilian Conservation Corps while he bashes their mission. It is common knowledge that a forest should be managed if it would be productively used, yet basic environmental history tells us that heavy logging took a tole on the health of our forest systems. It seems exceedingly wise to invest cheap labor to cut erosion and restore the forests, allowing for future economically beneficial use. Mr. Reed also mentions the government slaughter of livestock and waste of crops. It is a basic fact that overuse of agricultural lands contributed to the longevity and severity of the Dust Bowl. Rather than decrying the idiocy of the Roosevelt administration for wasting food, perhaps we should applaud their actions to protect the future production value of the agricultural systems.

In summary, it is easy to ignore the many problems Roosevelt needed to address with his legislation. We cannot know for certain if his methods to address the Great Depression were helpful, if they were necessary, or if they were unnecessary. At the very least, the public buildings, dams, bridges and roads we needed were built, and built with talented workers at a lower cost than was possible around that time. I certainly wish our modern government spending could produce so much lasting benefit for its cost.

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