Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Roosevelt Manifesto

The American economy is on the brink of revisiting 1929. American citizens are increasingly running into debt in their struggle to pay the doctor, make the house payment, make the car payment, AND buy $3 gas. We have to wonder how we got here. America is supposed to be the place where everything always gets better and better.

But we've been here before, and it was the same kind of laissez-faire economics which put us in the poorhouse in the 30's that have led us to disaster today.

Addressing the prevailing wisdom that unregulated free markets will automatically solve all of society's problems, the 32nd president, Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 aggressively asserted the role of government in establishing "that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness" for everyone.

This was the second of Roosevelt's four inaugural addresses, and its lessons need to be relearned if we're going to deal with the economic disaster unwinding today and sure to intensify with the next wave of foreclosures this coming January, February, and March.

Declaring that when he took office in 1933, "We of the Republic pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who had profaned it," Roosevelt added, "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays."

Roosevelt skewers the notion that government regulation of business is evil, and instead insists it's necessary to "bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public's government. The legend that they were invincible—above and beyond the processes of a democracy—has been shattered."

The same kind of immoral, unregulated lending and securities practices that gave rise to the Great Depression have once again brought us to the edge of disaster. Roosevelt speaks from the grave, telling us what we need to do.

Now all we need is for the present-day political system to produce a leader with Roosevelt's stature and courage.

Until that happens, we'll have to be happy just watching the ghost of Franklin D. Roosevelt beating up the ghost of Milton Friedman.

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