Forum, June 13: Reassessing the New Deal

Monday, June 12, 2017
Reassessing the New Deal

In his June 1 letter (“New Deal Failed”), Dick Tracy takes some big swipes at the New Deal and at “modern-day historians.”

A careful reading of history shows that what most people refer to as “the New Deal “was flawed, but there was not a single “New Deal” — the Roosevelt Administration tried several different strategies drawn from a wide range of ideological and economic advisers. All told, though, the New Deal, from 1933 to 1937, managed to help cut unemployment in half, no small feat as a response to the greatest economic and unemployment crisis the country had ever faced. In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt, acting on advice from balanced budget advocates such as Henry Morgenthau Jr., believed the economy was growing fast enough that he could afford to make significant cutbacks in government spending on programs such as the Works Progress Administration. The “Roosevelt Recession” that ensued after these cutbacks in spending resulted in the uptick in unemployment in 1938 cited by Mr. Tracy. But that one statistic is not evidence of a “failure” of FDR’s overall programs.

Mr. Tracy uses a quote from Morganthau cherry- picked out of a longer document and cited as the smoking gun evidence of the New Deal’s failure. This is the same Morganthau whose balanced-budget policies had just played a direct role in undermining the hard-won gains of the first four years of the New Deal. It is worth reading other parts of Morganthau’s commentary from that same document — for instance, the part where he recommends jacking up income taxes to help balance the budget.

Readers should appreciate the context and complexity of that particular person and historical moment.

John Morris

Topsham, Vt.

Cold Feet and the New Deal

Dick Tracy’s June 1 rebuttal to columnist Randall Balmer’s case for the New Deal’s effectiveness is factually incorrect.

The fact that most people (historians, especially) believe the New Deal worked is because it did. The fact that unemployment bounced to 19.8 percent in 1938 from a “low” of 13.2 percent was not a failure of “priming the pump.” It is a direct reflection of Henry Morganthau Jr. and others within Franklin Roosevelt’s party and in the opposition getting cold feet as early as 1936 and prematurely closing the spigot on public works and many other construction and social welfare programs, causing a disastrous slippage back to unimaginable levels of unemployment.

It wasn’t until the advent of World War II and unprecedented deficit spending that full employment and prosperity returned to America. The deficit spending of World War II dwarfed the New Deal spending as a swimming pool does a tea cup. No one disputed that World War II and deficit spending pulled us out of a decade-long depression. And no one should dispute that FDR’s cold feet in 1936 and 1937 caused the 1938 slippage.

Matt Cardillo


Bright Side to a Dark Moment

I’ve been trying to weigh the consequences of Trump’s Paris climate accords withdrawal notice. Here are a few thoughts that focus on a possible bright side.

1. Since it apparently takes three years for a signatory to withdraw from the Paris accords, Trump will either be gone or on his way out by the time his pronouncement takes effect. In the meantime, what he has said about the environment and the accords so profoundly demonstrates his ignorance and foolishness that 193 other nations may actually increase their efforts to cut global warming.

2. What he has done will require other Republican climate deniers to step into the light and defend their leader. In that illuminated place, they will be vulnerable to the anger and vengefulness of the 70 percent of Americans who care more for our planet than for the fate of America’s coal companies. They (the climate deniers) will pay a price; in my view they can skip political purgatory and descend directly to the fifth level of you-know-where.

3. The next generation of American leadership will soon step forward, not from the ranks of the lobbyists or the oligarchs or even from Congress, but from the cadre of mayors, governors and local leaders who have the courage to say “My community will fight for the Earth and our grandchildren’s right to live on it.” We will soon find the strong ones with fierce hearts.

4. Unfortunately, while I can go on being hopeful, there are big, unavoidable consequences and national costs to be confronted. A leadership role in the environmental fight is such a precious thing to give away, but that’s what Trump has just done. Because of that, we will lose jobs by the thousands, and the efforts of innovators and the skill of investors who want to put their capital where it will make a difference. It will take years for us to earn those things back, years in which other powers will surely reap the “huuuuge” benefits to be had.

Peter Hoe Burling

CornishThe writer is a former Democratic National Committee member and legislator.

Don’t Micromanage Library

Claremont City Manager Ryan McNutt has proposed cutting the Fiske Free Library budget by more than 31 percent for fiscal year 2018. Perhaps the City Council will grant him that cut; perhaps it will restore some of the spending.

But the library budget will, to whatever extent, be slashed a good deal.

I would hope that the City Council and the city manager will be content to give the library director his assigned budget, with a line item specifying how much is available to pay employees.

Let us not let the City Council or city manager dictate to the director how that money should be spent, and who should be hired or fired. That should be the decision of the library director. How many full-time employees and how many part-time employees should there be? Let the director decide. Include a reference specialist? An adult specialist? A children’s specialist? A cataloguing specialist? Let the director decide.

For the City Council or the city manager to make such decisions would be micromanaging.

We would all howl in protest if Patriots owner Robert Kraft dictated to Bill Belichick to waive a cornerback and sign a fullback. Likewise should we howl in protest if Claremont’s elected leaders, or the non-elected manager hired by those elected leaders, dictates to the person in charge of the library how best to spend the limited funds available to fill out the library’s employment roster.

Arthur Vidro

ClaremontThe writer is a member of the Fiske Free Library Board of Trustees.

Scott’s Brave Stand on Teachers

Gov. Phil Scott has been taking a lot of undeserved political heat from the Vermont NEA teachers’ union and their allies in the Democratic party regarding his courageous stand to save taxpayer $26 million dollars by having teacher health insurance contracts negotiated at the state level.

I don’t understand why the Vermont NEA wouldn’t be thrilled to have a state-run, single-payer system for their teacher members. In 2014 the Vermont NEA used $80,000 in teacher union dues to lobby Vermont legislators to support then Gov. Peter Shumlin’s bid to create a single-payer system in Vermont. The Vermont NEA also supported Shumlin and the failed Vermont Health Connect system.

One would think that having the Vermont NEA memberships’ health insurance managed at the state level would be a socialist dream come true. Except the Vermont NEA leadership knows better.

Ironically enough, the same figure of $26 million is what was raided from the Vermont Education Fund in 2011 to pay for uncontrolled overspending in the general fund, by guess who? Yes, Gov. Shumlin and the Democratic supermajority in the General Assembly.

I am waiting for the day when Vermont voters recognize that the Democrats they keep sending to the Legislature are no friends to Vermont’s students, parents or the Vermont taxpayer. I won’t be holding my breath, but I will be waiting for hell to freeze over.

Stu Lindberg

Cavendish, Vt.