Harold Laski's 1934 assessment of FDR (hat tip Anthony) is full of echoes for Obama and 2009.
What is different today is that we are now so aware of the 1930s and the parallels. The New Deal invented the restoration of confidence as it went along. It was part of FDR's greatness that he got so much of this muddling blind progress right. But today, we had got used to Bernanke being the expert on the economics of the Depression when Obama appointed Christina Romer, also the expert, to chair the Council of Economic Advisers.
The self-consciousness means that there is a certain script-like feel to the unfolding of the crisis. The car makers ask for a bail-out; the government asks for symbolic humiliation and a business plan; pay-checks will keep being sent ... Little by little, year by year, fear will subside and the the government will slowly retreat.
But if we know this, then what do we need to fear? If the whole process is too script-like, the crisis may be wasted beacuse the period of fear is when public policy can make change. The change will be slowly dismantled over generations after the fear is over, but, just as the 1930s legislation defined the broad outlines of consumer capitalism for us, so our policy changes over the coming years will define the context (and the countervailing ideology) for three generations of social development. Chicagoism needed Keynes; what we do today will determine the dominant counter-ideology of tomorrow.
Although Roosevelt was right that fear was fearful, that it needed to be conquered to re-establish some normality to the economy, he must also have known that only fear permitted a genuine, if not permanent, reallignment of interests.
Things to absolutely keep on the agenda: anti-poverty, international, green. Ford understood this in the green business plan it offered up to Congress, but was it only for show?
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