This debate reminded me of a "friend" of mine. This particular individual has a job where he is paid to argue the opposite side and lose poorly and spectacularly. For example, if "big oil" was sponsoring a debate on campus about off-shore oil drilling, they would hire my buddy and have him show up as a member of the Sierra Club. Now my friend's task isn't easy. He has to look like he is trying, and he has to look like he sincerely cares about the subject being presented, but his arguments have to be crafted in such a way that they make you feel bad about yourself for ever having agreed with him. It's beautiful.
It feels like the Cato institute hired the Pro-FDR guy and paid him to stink it up, big time. He actually got applause from his audience after he gave the line about some of FDR's programs being unconstitutional. His response? Well they may have been unconstitutional, but they WORKED! The great depression was on when FDR became president, and it had ended by the time his administration was over. If I was listening correctly, his entire argument was a correlation = causation fallacy.
I loved the response given by Cato "Russell" Hayek, or whatever the anti-FDR guy's name was: "Of course American agriculture was in deep depression, we wiped out a third of their markets with Smoot-Hawley. You have the Fed contracting the money supply. You've got government all over the place. And so you've got unsold goods, plummeting prices... What do they decide to do? Destroy perfectly good fields of corn, wheat, and cotton, perfectly healthy cattle, sheep and pigs. In an effort to reduce supply and raise the price. Even if it had helped the farmer, it could have done so only at the expense of everybody else. Something like 2/3 or 3/4 of Americans were not farmers, and yet they were the ones who would have to pay the higher prices. The AAA did something else, it levied a new tax on agriculture, millers and refiners and processors in particular. Just what you would expect a devastated economy to need right? Another tax on top of this terrible situation, with the idea that somehow this whole thing is going to create prosperity. It didn't, and it couldn't have. From the very beginning.
He was on fire!
Seriously though, by any standard of historical human health and well-being, the great depression was a non-event. Average life expectancy continued to rise throughout. Times were tough, but they were better in 1930's America, then they were for the vast majority of history. I would have gladly traded World War II for another decade of economic depression. Let's talk about that on Thursday.