One of the signs of insanity is repeating the same mistake in hopes of a different outcome. Seventy five years ago, the congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt did exactly the same thing that congress and President Barack Obama did on Wednesday with the same results.
By the spring of 1937, production, profits, and wages had regained their 1929 levels. Unemployment remained high, but it was considerably lower than the 25% rate seen in 1933. In June 1937, some of Roosevelt’s advisors urged spending cuts to balance the budget. WPA rolls were drastically cut and PWA projects were slowed to a standstill. The American economy took a sharp downturn in mid-1937, lasting for 13 months through most of 1938. Industrial production declined almost 30 per cent and production of durable goods fell even faster.
Unemployment jumped from 14.3% in 1937 to 19.0% in 1938, rising from 5 million to more than 12 million in early 1938. Manufacturing output fell by 37% from the 1937 peak and was back to 1934 levels. Producers reduced their expenditures on durable goods, and inventories declined, but personal income was only 15% lower than it had been at the peak in 1937. In most sectors, hourly earnings continued to rise throughout the recession, which partly compensated for the reduction in the number of hours worked. As unemployment rose, consumers’ expenditures declined, leading to further cutbacks in production.
The Roosevelt Administration reacted by launching a rhetorical campaign against monopoly power, which was cast as the cause of the depression, and appointing Thurman Arnold in the anti-trust division of the U.S. Department of Justice to act, but Arnold was not effective. In February 1938, Congress passed a new AAA bill which authorized crop loans, crop insurance against natural disasters, and large subsidies to farmers who cut back production. On April 2, Roosevelt sent a new large-scale spending program to Congress, and received $3.75 billion which was split among PWA, WPA, and various relief agencies. Other appropriations raised the total to $5 billion in the spring of 1938, after which the economy recovered.
The stock market plummeted over 500 points yesterday wiping out any gains from the recovery since 2008. The market is continuing to fluctuate after rather weak jobs report. While the U-3 dropped to 9.1%, it was due mostly to workers who are no longer seeking employment or are now in the ranks of the under-employed and jobs creation was weak. So after the debt ceiling deal and the worsening European banks situation, investors lacked confidence that the US could increase productivity.
But the White House and Congress insist on sticking to their story that if they hadn’t given the hostage takers all they wanted with no jobs stimulus or revenue increases, they wouldn’t have gotten the debt deal and the markets would have crashed. As John Nichols said in The Nation, “Unfortunately, it was wrong. Not just morally wrong. Not just politically wrong. Not just economically wrong. It was wrong with regard to the cherished markets.”