Posts tagged ‘FDR’

D-Day More Important in Containing the Soviets than Defeating the Nazis

Over time, my understanding of the importance of the D-Day invasions has shifted.  Growing up, I considered these events to be the single key event in defeating the Nazis.  Listening to the radio this morning, this still seems to be the common understanding.

Over time, I have had to face the fact that the US (or at least the US Army) was not primarily responsible for defeating Germany -- the Russians defeated Germany, and what's more, would have defeated them whether the Allies had landed in France or not.  Check out the casualties by front, from Wikipedia:

click to enlarge

The Russians defeated Germany.  Period.   And I don't think the western allies would ever have had the stomach to inflict the kind of casualties on Germany that were ultimately necessary to defeat her without Russian help.  To me, this is the great irony of WWII, that it was not ultimately a victory for democracy.  Only totalitarian Russia could defeat totalitarian Germany.  This thought often bothers me a lot.  It doesn't fit with how we want to view the war.

However, D-Day did have an important effect -- it kept Western Europe out of Soviet hands.  We did not know it at the time, but I would argue in retrospect that from mid-1944 on we were competing with Russia to see how Europe would get divided up after the war.  D-Day allowed the western allies to overrun most of Western Europe and keep it out of Soviet hands, perhaps an even more important outcome than just speeding the defeat of the Germans.  Sure, FDR gets grief for giving the farm away to Russia at Yalta, but what could he do?  The Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe at that point was a fait accompli.  What would have been FDR & Churchill's negotiation position at Yalta if their armies were not even on the continent (excepting Italy, where we might still be fighting in 2014 and getting nowhere)?

Window Dressing

Fed's reverse repo activity in Treasuries with major banks.  When I was on the corporate staff of a large conglomerate, we eventually busted one of our divisions for pushing inventory out the door on the last day of the quarter, only to have most of it returned a few days later, all as a way to boost quarterly revenues.  This appears to be the bankers' equivalent of such channel-stuffing.

Reverse Repo

 

Are the Feds really fooled by artificial quarter-end liquidity that is provided by the Feds themselves?  The stress-tests remind me of the story about FDR declaring a bank holiday, and claiming to have allowed only the strong banks to reopen the next day.  How did they know which were strong and weak?  They didn't, really.  The whole exercise was a PR ploy to boost consumer confidence in the banking industry.

Update:  Yep, there it all goes back where it came from

Reverse Repo April 1 2014

My Problem With Benghazi...

... was not the crisis management but Obama's throwing free speech under the bus.

I can live with poor crisis management.  I have been a part of enough to understand that things are different in real time than they look when monday-morning quarterbacking the events.  In particular, it can be very hard to get reliable data.  Sure, the correct data is all likely there, and when folks look back on events, that data will be very visible and folks will argue that better choices should have been made.

A great example of this is when historians sort through data to say that FDR missed (or purposely ignored, if you are of that revisionist school) clear evidence of the Japaneses surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Sure, the correct clues stand out like flashing lights to the historian, but to the contemporary they were buried in 10,000 ostensibly promising false leads.

In real time, good data is mixed in with a lot of bad data, and it takes some time -- or a unique individual -- to cut through the fog.  Clearly neither Obama nor Clinton were this individual, but we should not be surprised as our selection process for politicians is not really configured to find such a person, except by accident.

No, the problem I have with Benghazi is that when push came to political shove, the President threw free expression under the bus to protect himself.  I am a sort of city on the hill isolationist, who prefers as much as possible for the US to have influence overseas by setting a positive example spread through open communications and free trade.  In this model, there is nothing more important for a US President to do than to support and explain the values of individual liberty, such as free expression, to the world.

Instead, it is increasingly clear he blamed some Youtube video, an exercise in free expression, for the tragedy.  And not just in the first confused days, but five days later when he put Susan Rice on TV to parrot this narrative.  And when the Feds sent a team to arrest and imprison the video maker.  And days after the Rice interviews when Hillary parroted the same message at the funeral, and days after that when Obama spoke to the UN, mentioning the video 6 or 7 times.    Obama took to his bully pulpit and railed against free speech in front of a group of authoritarians who love to hear that message, and whose efforts to stifle speech have historically only been slowed by America's example and pressure.

Defending Corporatism, In the Name of Eliminating It

For years I have argued that Obama is leading us to a European-style corporate state rather than socialism per se (though the two have many things in common).  It seems like his defenders on the Left have figured that out, and are getting on board.

The other day, Kevin Drum seems to agree with a Washington Monthly article that defends corporatism in the name of attacking it.  In this case, it was an example from the beer industry:

Prior to the 2008 takeover, Anheuser-Busch generally accepted the regulatory regime that had governed the U.S. alcohol industry since the repeal of Prohibition. It didn’t attack the independent wholesalers in control of its supply chain, and generally treated them well. “Tough but fair” is a phrase used by several wholesale-business sources to describe their dealings with the Busch family dynasty. Everyone was making money; there was no need to rock the boat.

All that changed quickly after Anheuser-Busch lost its independence....Today, with only one remaining real competitor, MillerCoors, the pressure it can put on its wholesalers is extraordinary. A wholesaler who loses its account with either company loses one of its two largest customers, and cannot offer his retail clients the name-brand beers that form the backbone of the market. The Big Two in effect have a captive system by which to bring their goods to market.

.... So distributors are caught in an impossible bind: they either do the brewer’s bidding, including selling their businesses to favored “Anchor Wholesalers,” or they lose Anheuser-Busch InBev as a client. And if the wholesalers try to push back? Anheuser-Busch InBev will get rough.

I don't know if this is just tremendous ignorance or some sort of calculated scheming.  The article decries the growing power of beer manufacturers vis a vis liquor distributors, and wants to call this some sort of slide into corporatism.    Actually just the opposite is true -- what we see is Anheuser-Busch taking on some of the largest beneficiaries of government cronysism:  the liquor wholesalers.

The liquor distribution scheme, and resulting government enforced monopolies, created post-Prohibition have been the worst sort of corporate statism, and what is going on here is that the beer manufacturers are finally fed up with it.  Regional liquor wholesalers are generally some of the most politically powerful forces in local and state politics.  These distribution monopolies have all created multi-millionaire owners who deploy money and political clout to prevent any changes in law that might weaken their government-enforced monopoly position.  Wonder why you still can't mail order from Amazon that bottle of California Merlot -- thank the liquor wholesale lobby.  Without all this government protection of distributors, the soft drink business went through identical changes, relatively quietly, decades ago.

This whole liquor distribution scheme we have today is consistent with FDR's corporatist thinking (he was a great admirer of the economic aspects of Mussolini's fascism, and modeled the National Recovery Act after this Italian system).  But it is also thoroughly anti-consumer, and has both raised prices of alcohol to consumers as well as stifled innovation and competition.  We are living in a glorious age of incredible micro-brew choice, but this almost didn't happen.  The biggest hurdle these early pioneers had to clear was cracking this liquor distribution monopoly.

I find it incredible that a Progressive like Drum sees fit to defend such a system and castigate Anheuser-Busch for challenging it.  It is even more amazing to see him positing that anti-trust is all about protecting millionaire corporate players in one part of the supply chain from billionaire corporate players in another part.  I have said for years that anti-trust has been corrupted from protecting consumers to protecting weaker competitors, even when this protection hurts consumers  (remember, Microsoft was convicted of anti-trust violations for giving away free stuff to consumers).  I just am amazed that the Left has come so far that it has now openly adopted this view of anti-trust.

Update:  Here is another example of the Left describing market attacks on a government-protected corporation "Corporatist."  There are always beneficiaries of deregulation (consumers being the most unsung of these).  It is crazy and disingenuous for the Left to call those who win in a newly deregulated market "cronies."

It's Constitutional Because We Really, Really Want It

The game the Left is playing with the Supreme Court is interesting.  Their argument going into last week's Supreme Court frackas boiled down either to, "this is really needed so it must be Constitutional" or something like "we thought the Federal government could do anything."  By the way, while I find the latter depressing and it should be wrong, I can understand after decisions like Raich why one might come to that conclusion.

After getting pummeled in court this week, the Left has a couple of new takes.  The first is that while their side's lawyers did not offer any good arguments, particularly vis a vis limiting principles, it's the Court's obligation to do it for them.  The second is an interesting sort of brinksmanship.  It says that this is so big, so massive, so important a legislation, that the Supreme Court basically does not have the cojones to overturn it on a 5-4.  The extreme example of this argument, which I am seeing more and more, is that its so big a piece of legislation that it is wrong for the Supreme Court to overturn it whatever the vote, the implication being that Constitutional muster can be passed merely by making legislation comprehensive enough.

Kevin Drum has been taking both these tacks, and included this gem in one post:

So what will the court do? If they don't want a rerun of the 1930s, which did a lot of damage to the court's prestige, but they do want to put firmer limits on Congress's interstate commerce power, the answer is: find a limiting principle of their own. But find one that puts Obamacare just barely on the constitutional side of their new principle. This would avoid a firestorm of criticism about the court's legitimacy — that they're acting as legislators instead of judges — but it would satisfy their urge to hand down a landmark decision that puts firm limits on further expansion of congressional power. Liberals would be so relieved that Obamacare survived that they'd probably accept the new rules without too much fuss, and conservatives, though disappointed, would be thrilled at the idea that the court had finally set down clear limits on Congress's interstate commerce power.

You can see both arguments here - the proposition that the Court owes it to the defense attorney to make up a better argument for him, as well as the notion that the stakes are too high to overturn the legislation.

By the way, maybe I just went to some right-wing fascist school, but I sure don't remember any discussion of a loss of prestige by the Court as they overruled large swaths of the New Deal, particularly since their decisions were pretty consistent with past precedent.  I always considered it was FDR who lost prestige with this authoritarian impulse to pack the Court to get the Constitutional answer he wanted.  And taking the 1930's as an example, it sure seems both Left and Right are wildly hypocritical and inconsistent on when they are in favor and against Court activism.

Post Hoc Prioritization

For a while, there has been a contrarian school of thought in historical study of WWII that FDR, wishing to have the US enter the way against a strong isolationist streak in the general population, purposefully ignored evidence of an impending Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in order to create a casus belli.  A few historians have used some intelligence warmings combined with the insane un-preparedness of Pearl Harbor as their evidence.   Instapundit links to a new declassified memo that warns of Japanese interest in Hawaii just three days before the attack.

This is a fun but generally foolish game.  The same game was played after 9/11, pointing to a few scraps of intelligence that were "ignored."  But the problem in intelligence isn't always lack of information, but too much information.  In late 1941, the US government was getting warnings from everywhere about just about everything.   It is easy as a historian to pick out four or five warnings and say they were stupidly (or purposely) ignored, but this fails to address the real point -- that those warnings were accompanied by a thousand false or misleading ones at the same time.  The entire Pacific theater had already had a whole series of alerts in the months leading up to Dec 7, one false alarm after another.  It is Monday morning quarterbacking that strips the intelligence problem of its context.  To prove that something unusual happened, one would have to show that these warnings were processed or prioritized in a manner that was unusual for the time.

And sure, the readiness issue at Pearl Harbor is inexcusable.  But while historians can always find a few people at the time who argued that Pearl Harbor was the most logical attack target, this ignores the thousands in and outside the military who thought the very idea of so audacious an attack that far from Japan was absurd.   Historians are failing in their job when they strip these decisions of context (if you really, really want to get on someone about preparedness, how about McArthur, who allowed most of his air force to be shot up on the ground despite having prior notification of the Pearl Harbor attack hours before).

Silly Economic Plans

Via Kevin Drum, from Dylan Matthews

Second, the president should do more to help the American worker. He should establish a jobs program. Do the simple math: We are spending more than $110 billion annually in Afghanistan. Stop it. Or scale it back to the sort of covert operations and drone war that is warranted. Savings? Perhaps about $100 billion—per year. Use that money to create up to 5 million jobs at $20,000 each....Just as FDR did during the Great Depression, put these Americans to work in states, counties, schools, parks.

Even Drum considers this unrealistic, though for the wrong reasons (i.e. the evil Republicans in the House would never let us do it).  I have a series of thoughts on this

  1. FDR had low paying jobs programs in part because this was the only form of relief -- there was not welfare or food stamps or medicaid or unemployment or EITC or social security.  A $20,000 dig-a-hole-and-then-fill-it-in government make-work job would likely just displace about the same amount of other government transfer payments.  I can't see this doing squat.
  2. We are really going to kick-start the consumer market with $20,000 jobs?
  3. The Left needs to get its story straight on the stimulative effects of wars.  Democrats blame Bush for the current economy in large part because of his wars, and the author here implies that moving spending out of wars would be a net plus.  But Keynesians believe WWII ended the Great Depression and Krugman wrote just the other day that what we really need is a war with space aliens (I kid you not) to end the Great Recession.  So which is it?

By the way, I think wars are a total economic waste and drag on the nation.  Dedicating scarce resources to blowing stuff up is the worst possible use of capital.  However, diverting this into politically correct, politician-selected make-work projects is not really a lot better.

Obamacare and the Lost Recovery

Corporate profitability is back up, and output has returned to nearly pre-recession levels.  But employment still has not recovered.  Why?

Well, I am sure there are a lot of reasons, but one potential reason I have pointed out for a while are Federal efforts to increase the cost of employment.  If the true cost of an employee is higher, or even more uncertain, then investments are going to be funneled preferentially into capital rather than labor.  Certainly that is what our company has been doing for a while.  Thus productivity is way up, and employment is low.

I believe that Obamacare is a very important element in raising the cost and uncertainty of hiring new employees, particularly for small and middle-sized businesses that so often drive much of American employment growth.  Certainly in the NFIB, the small business group to which my company belongs, the entire character of our internal discussions has changed.  Three years ago we might have been discussing a mix of 10 or 12 issues we had.  Now all you hear is Obamacare discussion.  [Note - some on the Left like Kevin Drum argue that this concern is irrational.  I seldom take seriously the opinion of people who have never tried to make a payroll about what business people should and should not be concerned about, but it almost does not matter.  Whether it is irrational or not, the concern is a fact.]

Let me share a chart I just saw on Kevin Drum's blog (which he used to make an entirely different point).  Let's look at the recession up to March 2010:

Look at the orange line which is private sector employment growth (the blue bars include government and get squirrelly in 2010 due to temporary census workers).  This looks like a normal (though deep) recession with a nice recovery beginning.

Then, on March 18, 2010, Obamacare passed.  Now lets play the numbers forward.  Again, pay attention to the private job growth in orange - the blue spike in April in May is all temporary census workers

Correlation is not equal to causation, but Obamacare looks to me to be exactly like the National Industrial Recovery Act under FDR, a huge source of regime uncertainty and stab at free markets that killed an incipient recovery.

Life of the Libertarian

From John Hasnas via Matt Welch:

Libertarians spend their lives accurately predicting the future effects of government policy. Their predictions are accurate because they are derived from Hayek's insights into the limitations of human knowledge, from the recognition that the people who comprise the government respond to incentives just like anyone else and are not magically transformed to selfless agents of the good merely by accepting government employment, from the awareness that for government to provide a benefit to some, it must first take it from others, and from the knowledge that politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics. For the same reason, their predictions are usually negative and utterly inconsistent with the utopian wishful-thinking that lies at the heart of virtually all contemporary political advocacy. And because no one likes to hear that he cannot have his cake and eat it too or be told that his good intentions cannot be translated into reality either by waving a magic wand or by passing legislation, these predictions are greeted not merely with disbelief, but with derision. [...]

If you'd like a taste of what it feels like to be a libertarian, try telling people that the incoming Obama Administration is advocating precisely those aspects of FDR's New Deal that prolonged the great depression for a decade; that propping up failed and failing ventures with government money in order to save jobs in the present merely shifts resources from relatively more to relatively less productive uses, impedes the corrective process, undermines the economic growth necessary for recovery, and increases unemployment in the long term; and that any "economic" stimulus package will inexorably be made to serve political rather than economic ends, and see what kind of reaction you get. And trust me, it won't feel any better five or ten years from now when everything you have just said has been proven true and Obama, like FDR, is nonetheless revered as the savior of the country.

The Odd Bipolar World of Statism

Certainly one driver of statism is arrogance -- the technocratic belief that one's intellectual capacity and decision-making ability is superior to that of the masses, and therefore should be substituted (via authoritarian control) for that of the masses.  This was clearly the driver of statism in the early to mid-century.  Its what caused FDR to be so enamored of Mussolini-stype fascism.  A few smart people making the trains run on time.

But I am starting to wonder if there isn't a second driver of statism that comes from the opposite direction -- projecting one's own weaknesses on the rest of humanity and, assuming they share these weaknesses, using this assumption as a reason for mommy-state controls.  This latter reasoning came through in this article summary in my feed reader from the Arizona Republic:

Lamenting his first teenage cigarette, President Barack Obama ruefully admitted on Monday that he's spent his adult life fighting the habit. Then he signed the nation's toughest anti-smoking law, aiming to keep thousands of other teens from getting hooked.

Double Dip

In 1933 and 1934, America was on a trajectory to recover from the Depression.  But, before recovering, the economy was to nose dive again, and never really did recover until the next decade.  Historians and economists argue endlessly about this, but I am convinced that the arbitrary and capricious meddling in the economy by the Roosevelt administration caused many folks who would have started investing and bargain hunting with their capital to sit on the sidelines.  The National Industrial Recovery Act (thankfully killed by a mercifully non-packed Supreme Court) was just the most egregious example of the US government making it impossible to evaluate long-term business proposals because the basic foundations of the rule of law were shifting so much.

I fear we are facing a similar danger.   Everything continues to tell me that had we taken our medicine late last year, we would be entering a recovery over the next few months.  However, the Obama administrations economic interventions have gotten so egregious that there is a real danger investors are going to sit on the sidelines with their capital.  Who knows when your industry will get targeted with compensation restrictions, or higher taxes, or even forced changes in ownership?  Who could possibly feel comfortable making 20-year investments in this environment?  Dale Franks quotes Thomas Cooley:

Many investors are sitting on the sidelines, as is much money. Why? Because it is impossible to know what the rules of the game are. And that's because the administration and the Congress keep changing the rules in capricious ways in pursuit of larger political objectives.

Postscript: There is legislation pending in Congress to restrict the ability of lenders  (e.g. credit card issuers) from changing rates on existing debt.  They ask if it is fair for someone who took on a debt thinking it would be at 15% to suddenly find it is at 25%.  But how are tax increases any different.  I make 10-20 year investments in my company, and the expected tax rate is a hugely important assumption in whether it makes any sense for me to put my capital in a particular venture.   How is a large increase in taxes on returns from my past investments any different than changing the interest rate on an existing debt?

Chaos Has Gotten A Bad Rap

There are two words that really separate us hard-core libertarians from small-government Republicans and civil-liberties-focused Democrats:  Chaos and Anarchy.  Libertarians love chaos and anarchy, while most Americans still cringe from these words.  For most folks, chaos is some Road Warrior-style dystopia and anarchy is Molotov cocktails sailing into passing cars.

But chaos and anarchy are in fact the hallmarks of a free society.  They imply a bottom-up society where the shape and pattern of everything is driven by the sum of individual decisions, each decision made with that person's own optimization equation of his or her best interests, constrained only by the requirement they interact with other people without use of force or fraud.   Our wealth, our technology, our modern economy are all born out of this chaos.

I have heard it said that capitalism is not a system, it is the anti-system.  This is the true beauty of capitalism -- it is the only way for human beings to interact with each other without compulsion.    Every other approach to organizing society involves some group of people using physical force to coerce other people.

This does not mean that every individual decision made, every investment choice, or every business model in a free society is mistake-free.  Society and the economy are in fact riddled with mistakes.  The HAVE to be, when one considers that the shape of this country is the sum of literally billions of individual decisions, small and large, made every day.  The key, however, is that the outcomes are generally robust  to mistakes, even large ones.  Business people, for example, who make large mistakes see their business fail and their capital disappear and their assets repurchased in bankruptcy by other business people who may well make better, smarter use of them.  Costly mistakes only persist when they are enshrined by law and enforced by government, and thereby protected from the forces that tend to act to correct them.

But despite all we owe to our capitalist system that fundamentally strives on anarchy, we attend schools run by large authoritarian institutions, like the Catholic Church or the US Government, which train us from an early age to fear chaos.  This is not surprising, because the opposite of anarchy is control, regimentation,  and top-down planning, all the things that authoritarian institutions strive to have us meekly accept.   Large investments in public education in Western countries have always been in times of rapid expansions of state power and control.  This was true in France in the early 19th century and Germany in the early 20th.  It is even true in the US.  If you doubt this, and want to claim that public education is all humanitarian, then why does the state make it so hard to opt out?  The ultimate argument of every opponent of school choice is always some gauzy notion that public schools create a "shared experience," which sounds a lot like indoctrination to me.

The current administration is dominated by technocratic planners.   For them, any process that is not being controlled top-down by "smart" people like themselves is by definition a failure.   When I say that the current administration is reminiscent of Mussolini-style fascists, I am not implying that folks are going to be rounded up soon and sent to camps.  I mean that the animating assumptions -- that any process controlled top down is more efficient than one that is allowed to operate bottom-up and chaotically -- are similar.  FDR, for example, and much of the American intelligentsia were driven by very similar assumptions, and the National Industrial Recovery Act (fortunately struck down by a non-packed Supreme Court) was pretty directly modeled on Mussolini's economic planning system.

Examples?  Well, the GM/Chrysler situation is a great one.  One can easily paint a story that Obama's work to avert bankruptcy at these companies is just a crass political handout to powerful unions who supported him.  But, just as easily, one can portray these efforts as a man who is uncomfortable letting the fate of a large sector of the economy play out beyond his control.  Obama killed school choice in Washington DC despite fairly strong evidence of its success, because, again, everyone being educated in his or her own way just cedes too much control.

Another good example is this one, from the Anti-planner:

Ron Utt, the Antiplanner's faithful ally, has uncovered the first steps of President Obama's plan to force smart growth on those parts of the country that managed to escape the housing bubble. The departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development have signed a joint agreement to impose smart growth on the entire nation.

Under the agreement, the departments will "have every major metropolitan area in the country conduct integrated housing, transportation, and land use planning and investment in the next four years." Of course, nearly all of the metropolitan areas that already did such integrated planning suffered housing bubbles, while most of those that did not did not have bubbles. The effect of Obama's plan will be to make the next housing bubble much worse than the one that caused the current financial crisis.

Obama first hinted about this plan in a town hall meeting in February. "The days where we're just building sprawl forever, those days are over," he told a group in Fort Myers, Florida. "I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that's not a smart way to desig, n communities." Not everybody.

As a note on city planning, I will not claim a direct causality, because I am the first one to warn of the danger between directly correlating two variables in a complex system, but check out this map of job losses in the recession, noting the situation in Houston as the least planned city in the country.

job-losses

How Mussolini-Style Fascism Almost Came to the US

First, it was the National Recovery Act, where FDR explicitly tried to creat an economic system modelled on Mussolini-style fascism.  This was killed by the Supreme Court.  But the will of government to create an economic system where private companies win and lose based on how well connected they are to politicians never goes away.  The lastest attempt to set up such a managed system was via the Lieberman-Warner climate bill:

But perhaps even more pernicious is the way that "carbon credits" are distributed.

The credits are best described as a pulled-out-of-thin-air government-created fiat currency,
that is accepted only by the government in exchange for the
government's permission to let you emit CO2. (If ever a system was perfectly set up to be abused and politicized by politicians, this is it.)

Government bureaucrats will decide
sector by sector and industry by industry which companies get the
credits. Implicitly, that same decision by government regulators also
determines which companies will need to buy credits from the politically-connected companies who could get their carbon credits for free.

Government Whipsaw

TJIC has a great roundup of 20th century lending regulation:

Once upon a time, when we had a free market, bankers made loans to poor people.

Then, FDR came into office, and he and the Democratic Congress
passed laws to pressure banks to stop making loans to poor people.

Then, in the 1980s, Democrats heckled banks for not making
sufficient loans to poor people, and pass laws to force them to change
their ways.

Then, in the 21st century, Democrats heckled banks for making
too many loans to poor people, and passed laws to force them to change
their ways.

Nothing New Under the [Rising] Sun

Sixty-six years ago today, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, which turned out to be about as smart of a strategic move as taunting the New England Patriots just before the game.  During subsequent years, there was an inevitable investigation into why and how the US got caught so flat-footed, and who, if anyone, was to blame.

Decades later, revisionist historians reopened this debate.  In the 1970's, not coincidently in the time of Watergate and lingering questions about the Kennedy assassination and the Gulf of Tonkin, it was fairly popular to blame Pearl Harbor on ... FDR.  The logic was (and still is, among a number of historians) that FDR was anxious to bring the US into the war, but was having trouble doing so given the country's incredibly isolationist outlook during the 1920's and 1930's.  These historians argue that FDR knew about the Pearl Harbor attack but did nothing (or in the most aggressive theories, actually maneuvered to encourage the attack) in order to give FDR an excuse to bring America into the war.  The evidence is basically in three parts:

  • The abjectly unprepared state of the Pearl Harbor base, when there were so many good reasons at the time to be on one's toes (after all, the Japanese were marching all over China, Germany was at the gates of Moscow, and France had fallen) could only be evidence of conspiracy.
  • The most valuable fleet components, the carriers, had at the last minute been called away from Pearl Harbor.  Historians argue that they were moved to protect them from an attack known to be coming to Pearl.  They argue that FDR wanted Pearl to be attacked, but did not want to lose the carriers.
  • Historians have found a number of captured Japanese signals and US intelligence warnings that should have been clear warming of a Pearl Harbor attack.

I have always been pretty skeptical of this theory, for several reasons:

  • First, I always default to Coyote's Law, which says

When the same set of facts can be explained equally well by

  1. A massive conspiracy coordinated without a single leak between hundreds or even thousands of people    -OR -
  2. Sustained stupidity, confusion and/or incompetence

Assume stupidity.

I think it is more than consistent with human history to assume that if Pearl Harbor was stupidly unprepared, that the reason was in fact stupidity, and not a clever conspiracy

  • The carrier argument is absurd, and is highly influenced by what we know now rather than what we knew in December of 1941.  We know now that the carriers were the most valuable fleet component, but no one really knew it then (except for a few mavericks).  Certainly, if FDR and his top brass knew about the attack, no one would have been of the mindset that the carriers were the most important fleet elements to save.
  • I find it to be fairly unproductive to try to sort through intelligence warnings thirty years after the fact.  One can almost ALWAYS find that some warning or indicator existed for every such event in history.  The problem occurs in real-time, when such warnings are buried in the midst of hundreds of other indicators, and are preceded by years of false warnings of the same event.
  • I don't really deny that FDR probably wanted an excuse to get the country in the war.  However, I have never understood why a wildly succesful Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was more necessary than, say, an attack met strongly at the beach.  I can understand why FDR might have allowed the attack to happen, but why would he leave the base undefended.  The country would have gotten wound up about the attack whether 5 ships or 10 were destroyed.

It is interesting how so much of this parallels the logic of the 9/11 conspiracists.  And, in fact, I have the same answer for both:  I don't trust the government.  I don't put such actions and motivations past our leaders.  But I don't think the facts support either conspiracy.  And I don't think the government is capable of maintaining such a conspiracy for so long. 

Revisiting the New Deal. Finally.

By this definition of "not normal", I am not normal either.  I share with Tabarrok the strong sense that the New Deal (combined with shockingly stupid use of Wilson's Federal Reserve and of course rampant scorched-earth protectionism) extended rather than shortened the Great Depression. 

Imagine, increasing the power of
unions to strike and raise wages during a time of mass strikes and mass
unemployment. Imagine thinking that cartelizing whole industries
thereby raising prices and reducing output could improve the economy.
Not everything Roosevelt did was counterproductive - he did end
prohibition (although in order to raise taxes) - but plenty was and
worst of all was the uncertainty created by Roosevelt's vicious attacks
on business.

One of the things I think we have done historically is understate the true degree to which Roosevelt showed himself willing to take the country down the road to socialism, or more accurately, Mussolini-style fascism. Via David Gordon:

Roosevelt never had much
use for Hitler, but Mussolini was another matter. "'I don't mind
telling you in confidence,' FDR remarked to a White House
correspondent, 'that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that
admirable Italian gentleman'" (p. 31). Rexford Tugwell, a leading
adviser to the president, had difficulty containing his enthusiasm for
Mussolini's program to modernize Italy: "It's the cleanest "¦ most
efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It
makes me envious" (p. 32, quoting Tugwell).

Why did these
contemporaries sees an affinity between Roosevelt and the two leading
European dictators, while most people today view them as polar
opposites? People read history backwards: they project the fierce
antagonisms of World War II, when America battled the Axis, to an
earlier period. At the time, what impressed many observers, including
as we have seen the principal actors themselves, was a new style of
leadership common to America, Germany, and Italy.

Once more we must avoid a
common misconception. Because of the ruthless crimes of Hitler and his
Italian ally, it is mistakenly assumed that the dictators were for the
most part hated and feared by the people they ruled. Quite the
contrary, they were in those pre-war years the objects of considerable
adulation. A leader who embodied the spirit of the people had
superseded the old bureaucratic apparatus of government.

If you don't believe me, it is probably because you are not familiar with the National Recover Act (NRA) -- the famous "blue eagle".  This program was the very heart of Roosevelt's vision for the American economy, a vision of cartelized industries managed by government planners. (via Sheldon Richman of the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics):

The image of a strong
leader taking direct charge of an economy during hard times fascinated
observers abroad. Italy was one of the places that Franklin Roosevelt
looked to for ideas in 1933. Roosevelt's National Recovery Act (NRA)
attempted to cartelize the American economy just as Mussolini had
cartelized Italy's. Under the NRA Roosevelt established industry-wide
boards with the power to set and enforce prices, wages, and other terms
of employment, production, and distribution for all companies in an
industry. Through the Agricultural Adjustment Act the government
exercised similar control over farmers. Interestingly, Mussolini viewed
Roosevelt's New Deal as "boldly... interventionist in the field of
economics." Hitler's nazism also shared many features with Italian
fascism, including the syndicalist front. Nazism, too, featured
complete government control of industry, agriculture, finance, and
investment.

And further, from John Flynn's The Roosevelt Myth via Anthony Gregory:

[Mussolini] organized each trade or industrial group or professional
group into a state-supervised trade association. He called it a
corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and
could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards,
etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized
into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a
corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the
same thing. These code authorities could regulate production,
quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the
supervision of the NRA. This was fascism. The anti-trust laws forbade
such organizations. Roosevelt had denounced Hoover for not enforcing
these laws sufficiently. Now he suspended them and compelled men to
combine.

And read this to see the downright creepy Soviet-style propaganda Roosevelt used to promote the NRA.  One example:

A hundred thousand schoolchildren
clustered on Boston Common and were led in an oath administered by
Mayor James Michael Curley: "I promise as a good American citizen to do
my part for the NRA. I will buy only where the Blue Eagle flies."

The fact that the worst of the NRA was dumped by the Supreme Court, and eventually by FDR under pressure, cause us to forget what businessmen in the 1930's were seeing.  The unprecedented fall in asset prices in the early thirties would normally have started to attract capital, at least from the bottom-fishers.  But any reasonable observer at that time would have seen the US government on a path to controlling wages, prices, capacity, etc  -- not an environment conducive to investment.  In fact, under Roosevelt's NRA industry cartels, its not clear that private industrial investment was even legal without the approval of the Code Authority for that industry.

People look back fondly and give credit to the CCC and large public works programs for our recovery, but in fact these programs were necessary because FDR's New Deal, and particularly the NRA, made private investment dry up.

Postscript:  By the way, questioning the greatness of the New Deal is one of those issues that will get you labeled a wacko almost as fast as being a climate change skepticHere is Janice Rogers Brown getting slammed for questioning the New Deal.

A Final Note on "Don't Know Much About History"

In an earlier post, I observed that my audio CD of the bestselling book "Don't Know Much About History" struck me as extremely odd, focusing on only the lowest points in American history.  I can report after finishing the CD that it stayed on this path to the end.  After the Cuban Missile Crisis we had conspiracy theories of JFKs death, then the Mai Lai massacre, then Watergate, then Iran Contra, then Monica Lewinsky.  Yes, the last 40 years were summed up in total as Mai Lai - Watergate - Iran Contra - Lewinsky and essentially nothing else.  Wow, what a view of history!  As a libertarian, I am happy to showcase the foibles of government, but this seems like a crazy loss of perspective even to me.

In addition, bits of the history were just terrible.  For example, he said that the Puritans who came to America were much like a cult today and treated as such.  That is a lame simplification of history.  Sure, one can argue that today's religions were yesterday's cults, but it is silly to say that the Puritans were treated poorly in England for the same reasons a cult might be today.  This completely ignores the whole reality of having a state religion in England at the time of the Puritans.  A state religion trying to purge itself of dissent is a really different dynamic than a modern cult getting shunned by mainstream society  (except perhaps when Janet Reno controls some tanks).  This distinction is also important because avoiding state religions is an important foundation block of our government, and its prohibition is buried in that arcane and little discussed thing called, uh, the First Amendment. 

It's clear the author is not a big fan of capitalism, and I would generally not even comment on such a thing because it is so common in academia.  I managed to mostly ignore numerous off-the-cuff quips he makes about evil corporations and greed and the assumption that any action by a rich person had to be out of a desire to repress the masses rather than from principle.  However, his bias creates some really bad history in at least one instance.  In discussing Hoover and the depression, he really lays into Hoover for how block-headed and absurd Hoover was for not initiating massive government welfare programs earlier in his administration.  I mean, he absolutely hammers Hoover for being a total cretin, and the author laughs at various Laissez-Faire speeches by HH. 

But this is a stunning loss of context for a historian.  While government handouts to people who are out of work may seem a no-brainer today, it was absolutely unprecedented at the time.  It had never been done.  And, nowhere in the Constitution, whose 10th Amendment specifically says that Congress only has the specific powers enumerated in the Constitution, does it say Congress has the power to tax one person and give the proceeds as a handout to another to relieve economic distress.  In fact, it was enough of a Constitutional question mark that the Supreme Court would later rule unconstitutional most of FDR's new deal, at least until FDR could repack the Court with his guys.  HH had good reason, beyond just his principles, to believe that he would be breaking the law and violating the Constitution to do as the author suggests.  But nothing of this context is mentioned.  The author only portrays Hoover as an idiot for not being interventionist enough. 

In fact, the author leaves out a point I would tend to make first -- that the Depression would have been much better off if Hoover had in fact been truly Laissez Faire.  Unfortunately, his tightening of money supply in the face of a depression and liquidity crisis via the relatively new Federal Reserve, his acquiescence to the Hawley Smoot tariffs, and his tax increases to close the budget deficit all contributed far more to sending the train off the rails than any intervention could have ameliorated.

Technocrats

Preface:  Over the years, technocrats have always had a distaste for capitalism.  Their desire has always been the curb to bottom-up disorder and inherent chaos of succesful capitalism with top-down order and control.  In the early half of the 20th centruy, the leading economic argument against capitalism was technocratic-fascist:  That capitalism and competition were wasteful and disorderly and should be replaced with a more orderly state control.  The ultimate legislative result of this thinking was FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act, his emulation of Mussolini-style corporate fascism which was fortunately struck down by the Supreme Court.

While numerous large-scale failures of state economic control have mostly beaten back the technocratic argument, we can still see the fundamental failure of this approach in the last few weeks with the government's handling of the Katrina recovery:

A few days ago I had thoughts on top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to hurricane relief.  After watching the relief effort over the last couple of days, I am more convinced than ever that part of the problem (but certainly not all of it) with the relief effort is the technocratic top-down "stay-in-control" focus of its leadership.  Take stories like this:

Lots of
people including yours truly have volunteered to bring (including food,
generators, food, etc., to be self sufficient for a week or so) the most
important thing which is a boat but have been told NO under no uncertain terms.
"My" town is under water, people are in critical condition, and I have skill
sets and assets - including a boat which will come out of the hole in 14 inches
of water - and we are being denied the opportunity to help. And quite frankly,
that REALLY PISSES ME OFF.

And this:

A visibly angry Mayor Daley said the city had offered emergency,
medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday
to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of
Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank
truck.
[...]
Daley said the city offered 36 members of the firefighters' technical
rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-and-rescue
equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police vehicles and
two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health workers, a mobile
clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and Sanitation workers
and 29 trucks, plus other supplies. City personnel are willing to
operate self-sufficiently and would not depend on local authorities for
food, water, shelter and other supplies, he said.

While turning down offers to help, when everyone agrees not enough is being done, may seem unthinkable, these are actually predictable outcomes from a bureaucracy of technocrats.  Technocrats value process over results, order and predictability over achievement.  More important than having problems fixed is having an ordered process, having everything and everyone under control.  In this context, you can imagine their revulsion at the thought of having private citizens running around on their own in the disaster area trying to help people.  We don't know where they are!  We don't know what they are doing!  They are not part of our process!  Its too chaotic! Its not under control!

Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse - after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be in government trying to override those efforts.  But most emergency organizations are off the scale in this regard.  99% of their time, they don't actually have an emergency to deal with - they are planning.  They are creating elaborate logistics plans and procedures and deployment plans.  Planners, rather than people of action, gravitate to these organizations.  So, once a disaster really hits, the planners run around in circles, hit by the dual problem of 1) their beautiful plans are now obsolete, since any good general can tell you that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and 2) they are by nature still planners, trying to get order and process underway and create a new updated plan, rather than just getting every possible resource out there fixing the dang problem.

The army has had to deal with this conundrum for years.  How do you have soldiers who are good planners before a battle, but men of action and initiative once the battle is underway?  How do you run a fundamentally top-down organization such that when it matters, individuals will take the initiative to do what needs to be done?  Its a really hard problem.

Unfortunately, I fear that the lessons from this hurricane and its aftermath will be that we need more top-down rules and authority rather than less.  It is the technocrats on the sidelines who are most appalled by the screw-ups, and will demand more of whatever next time.

Here is an example of what I think we should do instead.  Let's accept that we can't plan for everything, can't have every resource stockpiled for an emergency, and that our biggest resource is our private citizenry.  Let's provide rules of engagement for 3rd parties to come into the disaster area and help with minimum supervision.  There might be different rules for trained rescue people and untrained private citizens.  Here is an example of the type of thing that might work better:

Every private citizen with a boat larger than X and a draft less than Y who would like to help can bring their boat and three days food and clothing to such and such boat ramp.  All municipal firefighters and rescue teams that want to help, come to such and such building, check in, and we will assign you a sector.  Rescue crews need to bring their own food, equipment, and waterproof paint to mark the buildings you have searched.  Then, go out to the boat ramp, find a boat and driver in the pool there, and go.  FEMA will bring in a fuel truck to refuel boats and will indemnify all boat owners for damages.  All survivors found should be brought back to the dock, and ambulances will be standing by.

Update: OK, I know some of you don't believe that this is a control issue for the bureaucrats.  Well, here is more evidence, from the Red Cross web site, via Instapundit.

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

  • Access
    to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local
    authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply
    cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and
    continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into
    New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people
    from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

Update #2:  Still reluctant to believe that control over the process is more prized by bureaucrats than results?  Try this, from CNN and via Instapundit:

Volunteer physicians are pouring in to
care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from
caring for Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems rise.

Among
the doctors stymied from helping out are 100 surgeons and paramedics in
a state-of-the-art mobile hospital, developed with millions of tax
dollars for just such emergencies, marooned in rural Mississippi.

"The
bell was rung, the e-mails were sent off. ...We all got off work and
deployed," said one of the frustrated surgeons, Dr. Preston "Chip" Rich
of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We have
tried so hard to do the right thing. It took us 30 hours to get here,"
he said. That government officials can't straighten out the mess and
get them assigned to a relief effort now that they're just a few miles
away "is just mind-boggling," he said....

It travels in a convoy that includes
two 53-foot trailers, which as of Sunday afternoon was parked on a
gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials
for several days would not let them deploy to the flooded city, Rich
said....

As they talked with
Mississippi officials about prospects of helping out there, other
doctors complained that their offers of help also were turned away.

A
primary care physician from Ohio called and e-mailed the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services after seeing a notice on the
American Medical Association's Web site about volunteer doctors being
needed.

An e-mail reply told him to watch CNN that night, where
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt was to
announce a Web address for doctors to enter their names in a database.

"How crazy is that?" he complained in an e-mail to his daughter.

Dr.
Jeffrey Guy, a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University who has been in
contact with the mobile hospital doctors, told The Associated Press in
a telephone interview, "There are entire hospitals that are contacting
me, saying, 'We need to take on patients," ' but they can't get through
the bureaucracy.

"The crime of this story is, you've got millions
of dollars in assets and it's not deployed," he said. "We mount a
better response in a Third World country."

Update #3:  Yes, there's more.  The Salvation Army has also been blocked, and the reason?  Their efforts did not fit snugly into the technocrats plans (via Cafe Hayek):

As federal officials tried to get some control over the deteriorating
situation in New Orleans, chaos was being replaced with bureaucratic rules that
inhibited private relief organizations' efforts.

"We've tried desperately to rescue 250 people trapped in a Salvation Army
facility. They've been trapped in there since the flood came in. Many are on
dialysis machines," said Maj. George Hood, national communications secretary for
the relief organization.

"Yesterday we rented big fan boats to pull them out and the National Guard
would not let us enter the city," he said. The reason: a new plan to evacuate
the embattled city grid by grid - and the Salvation Army's facility didn't fall
in the right grid that day, Hood said in a telephone interview from Jackson,
Miss.

"No, it doesn't make sense," he said.

Update #4:  I can't help myself.  Here is another:

The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the
story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is
confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets
and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention
Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center.

Update #whatever-I-am-up-to: Welcome Instapundit readers!  I have posted a follow-up on big government and disaster preparedness here.

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Yalta

GWB seems to have riled lots of folks up over his reference in a recent speech to Yalta.  If you have read any of the comentary from the left, you might be imagining he said all kinds of wild things.  I read much of the commentary before I ever read Bush's words, so I was prepared for a real gaffe.  After reading his speech, I was left wondering if those attacking Bush heard the same speech.  Here is the key paragraph:

As we mark a victory of six days ago -- six decades ago, we are
mindful of a paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For
much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of
another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end
oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of
Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful
governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow
expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of
stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of
millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the
greatest wrongs of history.

I am not sure how you can disagree with this.  I think the US owes Eastern Europe a big appology for selling them out at Yalta.  Now, one can argue that we had some reasons for our actions at Yalta.  First and foremost, we were exhausted from the worst war in history, and no one had the energy to gear up for a new confrontation.  Also, one can argue that it may be 20/20 hindisght that causes us to be more aware of Soviet hegemonic intentions than the actors at the time might have been (though certainly Churchill was fully cognizant of the dangers).  But, no matter how you cut it, small countries like Latvia were wiped out of existance and handed over to the Soviet Union by the Yalta agreement, and Bush's audience was made up of people still stung by this.  I think the comparison to Munich is very apt - the US post-WWII was exhausted and was more than ready to suspend disbelief and hope that appeasing Soviet territorial ambitions would head off a fresh confrontation no one had the will to fight.  Reason's hit and run has a nice roundup and further analysis.

The only explanation I can come upfor the uproar is that FDR, like Reagan and Kennedy, has an incredibly powerful though informal legacy protection society that leaps into action at even the smallest attempt to besmirch his historical halo.  In this case, Bush rightly does not even mention FDR; however, since FDR was the main advocate for pandering to Stalin at Yalta (against Churchill's vociforous but ultimately ignored objections), his defense forces feel the need to jump into action.  I would have hoped that with 3 generations separating us from FDR, we could finally look at him objectively.  He fought a fabulous war, in some sense carrying the whole free world on his shoulders for four years.  But he fumbled the peace, though, and screwed up at Yalta.

UPDATE:  Professor Bainbridge has this nice quote from Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga a few days before Bush's speech:

In Latvia ... the
totalitarian occupation ... of Nazi Germany was immediately replaced by
another "“ that of Stalinist totalitarian communist Soviet Union and was
one that lasted a very long time. The day we shall be commemorating
does have double significance and by coming to the Baltic States
President Bush is, I believe, underscoring this double meaning of these
historic events. 60 years ago when the war ended it meant liberation
for many, it meant victory for many who could truly rejoiced in it.

But for others it meant slavery, it meant occupation, it meant
subjugation, and it meant Stalinist terror. For Latvia the true day of
liberation came only with the collapse of the Soviet Union as it did
for our neighbours Lithuania and Estonia.

Sounds a lot like what Bush said.  Seems like Bush is in pretty good touch with the sentiments of the Latvian people he is speaking to.

 

I Guess I am an Extremist

I have not really had the time to do the research to form an opinion about Bush's judicial nominees, and the MSM is not very helpful in its coverage on the issue.  I wrote here that the judiciary has started to overreach of late, legislating from the bench to advance an agenda generally supported by the Democrats.  I don't know the candidates well enough to decide if these proposed judges are conservative activists who want to legislate from the bench but for conservative ends, or if they represent a first shot at reversing extra-constitutional judicial activism (which I would support).

However, I may have started to develop an favorable opinion on a couple of judges, based on what I have learned from their detractors.

Take this example, from a NY Times editorial, March 6, 2005.  In disparaging how extremist Bush judge nominees are, they use the example of:

Janice
Rogers Brown, who has disparaged the New Deal as ''our socialist
revolution.''

Woe is me, I must be an extremist.  First, the New Deal was clearly a "revolution", in that it was one of two events (the other being the Civil War) in the last 200 years that fundamentally changed the role of the federal government in what was a massive reinterpretation of the Constitution.  But was it socialist?  We can argue about whether the New Deal legacy that reaches us today is socialist or not- many quite normal non-extremist folks would argue yes and many similarly rational folks would argue no.

However, arguing the nature of the New Deal from what programs reach us today leaves out a lot of the picture.  Much of the New Deal was voided by the Supreme Court.  While some was re-passed later once FDR had a chance to remold the court with his own (for the time) extremist ideologues, some of the most socialist-statist-fascist legislation never was reinstituted.

The most dramatic of these institutions that fortunately were left on the cutting room floor was the National Industrial Recovery Act, or NRA.  Roosevelt actually modeled the NRA on Mussolini's fascism in Italy, so I guess it might be more correct to call it fascist rather than socialist but in practice, I can't ever tell those two apart.*

The image of a strong
leader taking direct charge of an economy during hard times fascinated
observers abroad. Italy was one of the places that Franklin Roosevelt
looked to for ideas in 1933. Roosevelt's National Recovery Act (NRA)
attempted to cartelize the American economy just as Mussolini had
cartelized Italy's. Under the NRA Roosevelt established industry-wide
boards with the power to set and enforce prices, wages, and other terms
of employment, production, and distribution for all companies in an
industry. Through the Agricultural Adjustment Act the government
exercised similar control over farmers. Interestingly, Mussolini viewed
Roosevelt's New Deal as "boldly... interventionist in the field of
economics." Hitler's nazism also shared many features with Italian
fascism, including the syndicalist front. Nazism, too, featured
complete government control of industry, agriculture, finance, and
investment.

If you are not familiar with the NRA, you need to be if you are going to come to a conclusion about the New Deal and just how statist FDR's aspirations were.  The actual text of the act is hereHenry Hazlitt has a long evaluation here.  In the end, the NRA was scrapped in large part because it was a disaster for the economy.  Many blame the NRA for strangling the recovery that began in 1933-34 and thus extending the depression.  Parts of the law (collective bargaining, minimum wage) were incorporated in other later legislation, but the core concept of organizing industrial cartels with government backing to run industries and set prices, wages, and production levels died, fortunately.

Update:  More here.  Mr. Gregory quotes John Flynn's The Roosevelt Myth:

[Mussolini] organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state-supervised trade association. He called it a corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and
could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards,
etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized
into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a
corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the
same thing. These code authorities could regulate production,
quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the
supervision of the NRA. This was fascism. The anti-trust laws forbade
such organizations. Roosevelt had denounced Hoover for not enforcing
these laws sufficiently. Now he suspended them and compelled men to
combine.

*  I disagree with people who want to argue that socialism is freedom but without property rights while fascism is property rights without other freedoms.  Neither of these conditions are stable, and both converge to the same destination of suffocating statism, just with different starting points and different people in charge.  One of the things that drive libertarians nuts is being presented with a grade school civics book that has a linear political spectrum with fascism on one end and communism on the other.  Are those really my only two choices?