The timing of a book’s release can be just as delicate as when a new movie, television show or record first reaches the public. Cover the current cultural zeitgeist, no matter how good one’s intentions may be, and there’s a chance it’ll shift before the product hits the market.
Which makes the release of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and The New Deal by Robert P. Murphy all the more remarkable — and relevant.
Murphy’s tome arrives just as the nation’s dialogue returns to those two major touchstones in American life and politics – The Great Depression and The New Deal – given our economic plight. The book’s sober array of facts, figures and arguments provides ammunition against those eager to blindly follow the new president’s prescription for solving the country’s fiscal woes.
In short, what you’ll be reading about both the Great Depression and the New Deal in the mainstream press will likely be biased, if not outright incorrect, according to Murphy.
The latest PIG installment begins by breaking down the various economic philosophies behind the Great Depression in a way that even a layman can grasp. The book also wisely attaches modern day politicians to these principles.
Some economic philosophies never die, no matter how often history discredits them.
The book’s’ first half describes the causes behind the Great Depression, and some of the conventional wisdom still circulating around its emergence. The second half sheds an unblinking eye on The New Deal, thought by many to be what brought the country out of the depression.
PIG debunks the conventional wisdom that President Herbert Hoover embraced a small government mindset at the dawn of the depression, using a combination of statistics and cold logic to paint a more accurate picture of his policies.
For example, New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman complains President Hoover didn’t spend enough at the time, but the facts Murphy provides say otherwise.
The Great Depression, Murphy argues, was a worldwide phenomena, and yet other countries rallied faster than the U.S. without having a New Deal in place.
Even a cursory glance of key statistics, like unemployment rates, reveal the New Deal did little to alleviate the nation’s suffering. Yet the meme to the contrary continues to flourish.
“How in the world did historians manage to teach generations of children that the New Deal ended the Depression?” he writes.
The most alarming chapter involves the “Outrages” of the New Deal, from the destruction of perfectly good agricultural goods to President Roosevelt’s immediate shutdown of the nation’s banks.
Later, Murphy debunks a myth likely embraced by many – that World War II righted the country’s economic ship.
The war meant “an enormous drain on American resources,” not to mention the horrible human toll of the conflict.
It is productivity — not destruction — that builds economies, he argues. Yet to look at some raw data, he says, seems to prove the myth true. GDP, for example, rose as the country entered the second World War.
The wartime price fixes made measuring economic growth too tricky to be trusted, and citizens made innumerable sacrifices during the war. They relocated to places where jobs awaited them, lived in apartments where the low rents meant little incentives to make repairs, and had to do without some typically available consumer goods — like shoes, coffee and gasoline. That’s all hardly the sign of a typically robust economy.
The book features numerous sidebars which add crucial perspective to the bigger picture, including snippets from President Calvin Coolidge and Friedrich Hayek, the latter having gone on the record saying he predicted the stock market crash and its fallout.
Murphy’s book isn’t an ideological sledge hammer. He gives credit where it’s due, even to those with whom he disagrees partly. He also acknowledges that economic minds like Milton Friedman deserved much of the kudos generally laid before them.
Murphy even takes on former President George W. Bush, calling him “the furthest thing from a free market, small government crusader.”
In case the book hasn’t provided enough information, the author also lists a series of related books “you’re not supposed to read” for further education.
The latest politically incorrect guide wraps with a cautionary note about President Barack Obama, saying the new president’s affinity for organized labor — and belief in potentially disastrous policies meant to curb global warming — could mean a Depression 2.0 is heading our way.
Vigorously researched – and just as animated in its arguments — The Politically Incorrect Guide to The Great Depression and The New Deal is a pointed counterbalance to the media spin heading our way.