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Monday, July 19, 2010

Was FDR a Hero an Optimist or an Opportunist?

By Pat Meehan

NOTE: This Blog has been expounded upon from its original date of July 19, 2010.

Did FDR save us from the Great Depression? Below are unemployment rates from 1929 - 1939. Please keep in mind FDR was elected in 1932 and didn't take office until March of 1933. Please read, think, formualte opinions, check facts and please post your comments once you have read and researched this blog.

Unemployment Percentages from 1929-1939:

1929 3.2%
1930 4.2%
1931 15.9%
1932 23.6%
1933 24.9%
1934 21.7%
1935 20.1%
1936 16.9%
1937 14.3%
1938 19.0%
1939 17.2%

After reading these statistics let's think about what we learned as cgildren about FDR in grade school and in high school. We learned that FDR saved us from the Great Depression. But did he? Look at the official unemployment numbers above for the first 7 year period of his presidency.

I suggest that it is more likely that FDR was just a very smart fellow. He knew he could not get quick action to reclaim a robust economy, therefore, he created social programs via Social Security, Unemployment Benefits, Food Vouchers, today known as Food Stamps, and a Minumum Wage.

FDR may have been a caring person, but maybe more ambitious than caring. He desperately wanted to improve the U. S. economy but he knew that wasn't going to happen for years to come, as the figures above show. FDR was very calculating in creating his "New Deal." This "New Deal" allowed for a minimum wage, unemployment benefits, social security benefits, and food vouchers / food stamps.

This was not all bad and it was also very promising to a president who knew many years of high unemployment were ahead and that his social programs provided security to many suffering Americans. These programs also, however, provided for FDR's burning desire to be re-elected to many terms, four to be exact.

FDR was a very smart fellow indeed. When he enacted Social Security for citizens of age 62, the life expectancy in 1932 was age 61. Acturarily, that was a very good bet and a win for the government, and congress would surely go along. In addition, the baby boom generation had not yet started. FDR knew he could not bring unemployment to a satisfactory number, however he knew that a majority of hurting Americans would re-elect him because of dependence on government programs.

Today, Social Security is still here for those of us of age 62, when life expectancy is now is 84 and we have the biggest bubble of applicants because of the baby boom generation in the history of the Social Security program. Reform is mathematically sensible and Romney & Ryan have a plan to reform Medicare and Social Security to match the very smart actuarial efforts that FDR put forth into those programs in his day.

FDR was very irresponsible to run for a fourth term, as he knew he was dying. However his ambition was still pushing him. He was so irresponsible as not to have included or briefed his Vice President, Harry Truman, on the Manhattan project (the two atomic bombs on Japan).

FDR served two purposes, one for his country and two, for himself and it is very hard to distinguish between the two as to which took priority. FDR was a good man in many ways, but more concerned about power and election and re-election than on the benefit and good of the U.S. people. It was only after Pearl Harbor, when the United States was forced into war with Japan and when Hitler declared war on the United States the very next day, did the U. S. economy start to improve due to manufacturing of planes, tanks, and war supplies in our U. S. factories.

In summary, FDR was an opportunist. His opportunism led, very quickly, to the passage of a two-term law to limit any president to a maximum of two terms. It was Harry Truman who made the very tough decisions to win World War II. FDR certainly has his place in history, many for good and many to be in question.

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Anonymous said...

I came upon your post by chance. What is your source for these numbers? The US Bureau of Labor starting measuring unemploymnet rates by actual enumearation only after 1948. So numbers for the years you have listed are pure guesstimates. Moreover your numbers show that unemplyment rates went from 4.2% in 1930 to 15.9% in 1931. Can we really believe that?

Pat Meehan said...

The numbers are accurate. They can be easily verified by using Google. Also, unemplyment rates did actually rise from 4.2% in 1930 to 15.9% in 1931 after the stock market crash that led to the great depression.

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