Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Greatest American President since Lincoln

Yes, I'm talking about Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Wall Street Journal today has an op-ed piece by Conrad Black, the Canadian publishing magnate, who has recently written a book about Roosevelt called Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom.
The article, entitled 'Capitalism's Savior,' gives a good summary of Roosevelt's remarkable accomplishments which makes every other U.S. president in recent times seem pale in comparison - and that includes both Clinton and Reagan.

It's too bad that the WSJ requires a separate subscription to access its online content (even editorial pieces) so the best I can do for those without access to a paper copy is provide a few excerpts:

"When he entered office in 1933, unemployment was at 33 percent, there was almost no public-sector relief for the jobless, 45 percent of family homes had been - or were in imminent danger of being - foreclosed, and the Chicago Grain Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange and the banking system had collapsed. Almost no one was engaged in agriculture on an economically sustainable basis and the nation's food supply was apt to be severly interrupted at any time."

"Most authentic historians credit Roosevelt with swiftly reviving the American banking system, guaranteeing bank deposits, minimizing the number of bank failures and substantially alleviating the Depression. Yet, as with most other historical achievements, the revisionists have been hard at work. Jim Powell of the Cato Institute argues in a new book that FDR actually prolonged the Depression!"

"Most would accept that FDR's system of raising farm income by having farmers vote by category to reduce production in exchange for subsidies and sustainable prices was a success. I know of no serious criticism of the Roosevelt administration's refinancing of home mortgages; low-yield loans to farmers with crops and animals as collateral; the Tennessee Valley Authority and the vast extension of rural electrification; the GI Bill of Rights, which produced a benign, posthumous socioeconomic revolution; the concept of Social Security, including unemployment insurance; and most of the public works and workfare schemes of the New Deal..."

"Roosevelt spared the country the extremes of left and right that plagued every other great power in the '30s. He left the U.S. twice as wealthy as it was when he assumed the presidency. As economics, the New Deal deserves a passing grade, but as crisis management it was a huge success. And in the 1930s, Roosevelt was almost the only leader of an important country who was not either a barbarous dictator, an appeaser of barbarous dictators or an ineffectual ditherer. For these reasons, as well as his genius as a war leader, he is rightly judged the greatest American president since Lincoln."

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