Saturday, June 21, 2008

Book Review: “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History”

Below is another guest book review by Henrik Ræder Clausen of Europe News.


Book review: “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History”
Reviewed by Henrik Ræder Clausen


Disclaimer: I’m not American. I just happen to love history. Bear with me as I have the audacity to write about American history.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American HistoryOne may wonder, perhaps having suffered boring high school history lessons: What could make history fun? The answer is simple:

Truth does.

Thomas E. Woods, in this delightful and easy-to-read book, sticks to this simple concept. And it works. Building on the best possible foundation — the American Constitution — he reassesses key events in American history and digs out all kinds of quotes, facts and details that are routinely skipped in today’s history lessons.

Simplicity, cherry-picking and iconoclasm

Why would one skip important parts of American history, one may wonder? The simplest explanation might be the most likely — that digging into the details reveals such complexity that most teachers of history would balk at the challenge. Painting in more colours than black and white takes much more work — and, well, skill. A harder problem would be that many of the details here disturb the official line of thought in academia, and taking up these issues might lead to academic isolation, which is not so nice. Worse still is that digging into some of the central myths of American history might disturb the identity of the nation and cause distrust in the federal government. Those reasons should be enough for any careful historian to back off and dig into the decay of the Mayan empire instead.

Woods, not bothering much about academic exclusion, forges ahead. Taking the noble foundation of the US Constitution as his springboard, takes a delightfully refreshing look at American history. He does what every respectable historian should do: He uses the sources. Digs into quotes by Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. And yes, he gets some myth-busting and surprising iconoclasm done.

Woods has a straightforward view of the Constitution. He reads the text, and he applies it, moving to challenge several of the ‘great’ presidents of the United States on the best and finest of foundations, leading to some awfully incriminating conclusions:

  • The American civil war was not about slavery. It was about forcing a unified state.
  • Woodrow Wilson possibly was the most dangerous person ever to become president.
  • Fascination with federal intervention created the Great Depression.
  • American involvement in wars is not always a Good Thing. ‘Democracy-building’ usually fails.
  • We lost a lot of good things during the 60’s. Looks like common sense was first to go.
  • Clinton’s US Balkan policy was a failure. And, since Bush changed nothing, it still is.

One will wonder, of course, if Woods is biased? Of course he is! But that doesn’t mean he’s dishonest, and that’s what matters. He deliberately delves into the parts of American history he finds relevant, skipping entire large passages that he has no interest in working with. This book isn’t — and he states that clearly — a comprehensive guide to American history. It is cherry-picking. And — while he uses original sources extensively — it comes across as a very personal book, in a positive sense. He shines in his enthusiasm for history, and in exposing the faulty perceptions of history many suffer from today.

Constitution: Just use it
- - - - - - - - -
The stringent approach Woods takes to the US Constitution deserves special mention. For the Constitution is a promise by the founding fathers of how the United States were intended to be run, with due respect for and protection of, the citizens. Circumventing the Constitution is a grave matter indeed, and Woods documents many such cases. Politicians of today use this tradition of circumvention to further their own agendas and obtain disproportionate amounts of political power, and this is a problem.

Political power, in any democratic system, should be exercised close to the people giving that power. Yet political tradition in the US, in the European Union and elsewhere are, to a large degree, in the hands of a self-elected elite who seem to consider the electorate a ‘problem’ rather than their natural power base. The recent European struggle over the EU “Constitution Treaty” (now renamed “Lisbon Treaty”) is a related example of this elitism.

Woods digs into an interesting proposal for the relationship between the Union and the constituent states, namely the “Principles of ‘98” (1798, that is). The concept is simple: If only the Union is permitted to interpret the Constitution, power will, bit by bit, be transferred from state level to Union level. The Principles of ‘98 proposes that both parties would have the right to interpret constitutional law, and thus the states would have a solid constitutional foundation for limiting federal power. The principles were not adopted, but the thought is intriguing: Had these principles been in place, the American Civil War, for one, would have been obviously unconstitutional.

Prose and facts

Woods writes in a lovely, straight prose and elucidates constitutional principles in a way that one needs no prior understanding of law to follow. Unfettered by murky traditions, he brings in a truckload of challenging information that any high school student would find a godsend for challenging inept teachers of history. Challenging incompetence, with a solid basis in facts, is a great training, and this book gives a solid array of useful facts for the purpose.

And he uses these facts. combined with relentless logic, to demonstrate the repeated ineptitude of governmental programs and well-meaning (on the surface) legislation. Take the Great Society programs created by Lyndon B. Johnson to battle poverty. From 1950 through 1968, poverty in the US had shown a regular decline of about 1 percentage point a year. Enter the Great Society program to accelerate that trend. Did it work? Well, no. For the first time in two decades, poverty stagnated. Crime and drug use, on the other hand, accelerated. But at least he managed to spend seven trillion dollars on the effort.

War

Woods loves honesty, clarity and transparency. He mercilessly exposes clandestine government policies and manipulations in several of the major wars entered by the US, including the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars. They can’t be covered in detail, of course, but key events leading up to the wars are examined, with very interesting results.

The fact is that the United States after WWII has a very significant standing army, which is not in line with the wishes of the framers of the Constitution. Fortunately, only the US Congress can declare war, which is a measure designed to keep the executive branch of government (the president) from plunging the nation into unneeded wars.

Unfortunately, this is being circumvented. Consider the number of wars that the US has been involved in since WWII — no small number. Yet, in none of these did a formal declaration of war open it. Congress, the legislative branch of government should be declaring wars, but has in practice relinquished this power to the executive branch, who enter into military engagements on other legal foundations, such as ‘policing agreements’ or ‘enforcing UN resolutions’.

Franklin D. Roosevelt gets a particular vicious beating in the book. Apart from the details on the role he played in sustaining the Great Depression, his giveaway to Stalin will probably upset many. Take this quote, with Roosevelt addressing the William Bullitt (US ambassador to the Soviet Union) who had just warned the president against the intentions of Stalin:

Bill, I do not dispute your facts. They are accurate. I don’t dispute the logic of your reasoning. I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry [Hopkins] says he’s not, and that he doesn’t want anything but security for his country. And I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.

If this was some second-rate civil servant speaking, it would not be cause for significant worry. Unfortunately, it was the US president at one of the major WWII conferences (Teheran), showing that his concessions to the Soviet Union were deliberate — and hopelessly naïve.

An interesting detail he digs out is that the Vietnam war, as a main component, included democracy-building in South Vietnam. Sounds familiar..?

The alternative reading of history makes for some interesting hypothetical historical scenarios. What if, for instance, the West had decided that Germany, Russia and Japan made excellent mutual foes, and that it would be a great advantage to the democratic world to stay on the sidelines while the great dictatorships hammered each other into ruin, exposing themselves the inherent fallacies of militaristic dictatorships?

And peace

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was designed to remove preference based on skin colour, ancestry and the like, to end racism once and for all. Good intentions, and it is obvious to anyone that admitting or denying people education or employment based on skin colour instead of qualifications is stupid. Except, perhaps, when the government does so? Affirmative action, quotas and the like are, if anyone applies simple logic, new programs discriminating against people based on skin colour. It’s so glaringly obvious that one can only shake the head in disbelief that programs like these were accepted and implemented. Even now, four decades later, the American obsession with racism has not abated.

Take ‘Busing’, the practice of driving school children to remote schools instead of their local ones, in order to minimize ‘segregation’. Now, who said that racially diverse schools are in itself evil, or cause minorities to feel discriminated against? The performance of several non-white minorities show this not to be the case — they regularly outperformed their white counterparts. But the stupidity, and the wasted time and money spent on driving kids two hours every day might be the lesser disaster compared to the loss of the community feeling behind the schools in the local community. Fortunately, this hopeless practice is now abandoned.

The problem of ‘Big Government’

Throughout the book is an undercurrent of discrediting Big Government. This is controversial, of course, and can be perceived as being rather cynical, as if one does not care for the weak in society. The agenda here, however, is a different one. Big Government — and the US federal government ranks as the largest on Earth — tends to make Big Mistakes, just because it can. FDR’s handling of the 1929 Wall Street crash is an exposé of incompetence and rather obvious mistakes — faults so aggravating that it takes severe dishonesty to explain them away. It is, in a way, little wonder that FDR is one of the most praised presidents in US history. If it wasn’t for the praise, his real legacy would be exposed.

While not addressed directly, the notion of the “Sorelian myth” deserves mention. It is the notion that a nation needs a mythical foundation — and that the truthfulness of this myth is irrelevant. This idea was significant in the fascist states of the 1920’s, and lives on to a lesser extent in mainstream US history. Identifying and abandoning these myths (such as the American Civil War being about slavery) takes skill and courage, and the end effect on national identity is uncertain. Hopefully abandoning the hazy mythmaking will increase the appreciation of sincere human dignity instead.

This book makes the case for transparency in government. During the Cold War, we became accustomed to the necessity of clandestine operations. The ending of the Cold War, along with the media revolution and Internet, changes this dramatically. Just about everything will be exposed eventually, and the tradition of hiding political agendas increasingly looks like deceit, not like a sensible and justified style of negotiation. The repeated exposure of misgovernment causes our confidence in government to erode. Woods doesn’t quote this, but it is remarkable in line with his book that US confidence in the federal government is plummeting, down from 60 % to 30 % over a decade. Something’s gotta give, and since the US federal government is basing its activities on massive deficit spending, what Woods calls the ‘Leviathan’ just might be in for some remarkable trouble.

Common sense of common people

One may wonder what Woods imagines instead of the federal government. An answer would be ‘nothing’, but that associates in an improper direction. Woods has a solid confidence in the common sense of common people. Normal people who make a living, send their kids to school and generally cause little trouble for society. The principle of private property, as a cornerstone of a healthy society. And in Christian ethics too, which of course is a tad more controversial, when standing up for your own culture and asserting that it’s better tends to be frowned upon. He implicitly makes the case for state governments as more appropriate than the federal in many runs of life.

Last, but not least: Although this is a book of history, relevance for today pervades it, subliminally. Woods loves the US Constitution, and the notion of free people running their affairs with dignity and inherent human goodness. While the book certainly has an attitude, this should not keep anyone from reading it. Then read something of a different opinion and see how they compare.

Pros:

  • Delightfully readable language
  • Uses original sources extensively
  • Stringent understanding of the Constitution
  • Merciless exposure of stupid political actions
  • Whets the appetite for more history

Cons:

  • Not by any means a complete account of US history

Bottom line:

A most entertaining book with a solid foundation. The cherry-picking and obvious bias are exactly that: Obvious. And then they serve not as manipulation, but as inspiration to go further and read more. Highly recommended.

32 comments:

Fjordman said...

Thank you for an excellent review. I like Woods. His book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization is well worth reading, although it does have a few drawbacks. He does not even mention Giordano Bruno, for instance.

Be also sure to buy Ali Sina's Understanding Muhammad.

mpresley said...

"Now, who said that racially diverse schools are in itself evil, or cause minorities to feel discriminated against? The performance of several non-white minorities show this not to be the case — they regularly outperformed their white counterparts."

Several? Other than East Asians who crunch numbers for breakfast and routinely destroy the math section of the SAT, who could he be talking about?

blogagog said...

This column should be called :
Baron Bodissey - The Audacity of Writing.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Mpresley, there are several distinct Asian minorities.

mpresley said...

Henrik R Clausen said...

Mpresley, there are several distinct Asian minorities.


Yep...there are Chinese heralding from the mainland, Chinese from HK, Koreans Japanese, and a few others. But the important point, I guess, is that they are all Asians. The implication that other minorities routinely set the curve is not the case. The article kind of implies otherwise.

Afonso Henriques said...

Very nice - as always - Henrik.

Though I got confused with your first six points. And you know, I am in a permanent quest to understand America, even if I have been lazy all my life to do it really seriously.
Concerning your six points:

1st) Ok, I don't want to go there; you are right.
2nd) My lack of knowledge does not allow me to know who that personage is without checking it on Wikipedia.
3rd) What??
4th)Obvious.
5th)More than obvious.
6th)So obvious I will not even say it is obviuos.

But what I really didn't get was how Federal Intervention created the Great Depression.

You know, I know you are all about economics and free market, I, myself, am (faking I'm) studing Economy but I have always been told that what happen was something this way:

1st) Americans are highly Nationalist and as so they do not buy non-American products what makes the Economy grow and grow because everything that is procuced in America is consumed by the American public and in this way American bosses can pay their subordinandes better and better salaries. (Henry Ford, for example);

2nd) This was only possible due to ever growing financial especulation on Wall Street and the First World War that destroyed European Economies;

3) The Crash of 1929. America realises that it can not continue based in especulation;

4th) The Great Depression happens;

5th) The government miraculously intrevein in the Economy and Martin Luther King appears, they both fight Hitler, all Americans grab their hands togeather while singing "We are the world, we are the children" and America is great.

6th) When its evident that America is a better place than Communism can ever create, America is doomed for ever as the worst of Capitalist states and Bush is born righ from the seeds of evil. Vietname and the "nuking" of Japan is his fault as well.

Well the 5th and 6th paragraph are half kidding but the question is:

Can you please explain me what the hell was the third point about???

I am very curious... thank you very much for the article, Henrik.

P.S.- It does not make any sense to me...

Indigo Red said...

Henrik Ræder Clausen: "The American civil war was not about slavery. It was about forcing a unified state."

Afonso Henriques: "1st) Ok, I don't want to go there; you are right."

I will.

Although true on the surface, the contention that the "civil war was not about slavery..." is ultimately false. The civil war was very much about slavery.

The Southern, or as they were termed at the time, the slaveholding states enumerated the causes that led them to the separation. While the "State's Rights" argument was, in fact, made it was specifically the right to own slaves. Slavery was the specific State's Right that was referenced.

It was not the State's Right to operate their own banking systems, conduct commerce, print money, regulate real property ownership, educate their citizens, adjudicate crimes, housing and treatment of prisoners, or indeed, what was and was not a crime. The State's Right that was offered by almost all the seceeding states was slavery, the right of indivdual human beings to hold in bondage and forced servitude another human being.

George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana to the Texas Secession Convention, voiced the reason for separation most plainly 9 Mar 1861:

"History affords no example of a people who changed their government for more just or substantial reasons. Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery, and of the free institutions of the founders of the Federal Union, bequeathed to their posterity."

E.S. Dargan, in the Convention of Alabama, Jan. 11, 1861:

Years ago I was convinced that the Southern States would be compelled either to separate from the North, by dissolving the Federal Government, or they would be compelled to abolish the institution of African Slavery.

Governor Isham Harris proposed to the Tennessee Assembly these Amendments to the Federal Constitution in order to avoid a conflict over the slavery question:

1st. Establish a line upon the northern boundary of the present Slave States, and extend it through the Territories to the Pacific Ocean, upon such parallel of latitude as will divide them equitably between the North- and South, expressly providing that all the territory now owned, or that may be hereafter acquired North of that line, shall be forever free, and all South of it forever slave. This will remove the question of existence or nonexistence of slavery in our States and Territories entirely and forever from the arena of politics. The question being settled by the Constitution, is no longer open for the politician to ride into position by appealing to fanatical prejudices, or assailing the rights of his neighbors.

2d. In addition to the fugitive slave clause provide, that when [the] slave has been demanded of the executive authority of the State to which he has fled, if lie(sic) [he] is not delivered, and the owner permitted to carry him out of the State in peace, that the State so failing to deliver, shall pay to the owner double the value of such slave, and secure his right of action in the Supreme Court of the United States. This will secure the return of the slave to his owner, or his value, with a sufficient sum to indemnify him for the expenses necessarily incident to the recovery.

3d. Provide for the protection of the owner in the peaceable possession of his slave while in transitoin, or temporarily sojourning in any of the States of the Confederacy; and in the event of the slave's escape or being taken from the owner, require the State to return, or account for him as in case of the fugitive.

4th. Expressly prohibit Congress from abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, in any dock yard, navy yard, arsenal, or district of any character whatever, within the limits of any slave State.

5th. That these provisions shall never be changed, except by the consent of all the slave States.


Finally, from the President of the Confederacy:

"...conscientiously believing that the proper condition of the negro is slavery, or a complete subjection to the white man, -- and entertaining the belief that the day is not distant when the old Union will be restored with slavery nationally declared to be the proper condition of all of African descent, and in view of the future harmony and progress of all the States of America, I have been induced to issue this address, so that there may be no misunderstanding in the future.

JEFFERSON DAVIS"


After 143 years, there is still vast misunderstanding as to why the Slaveholding states seceeced from the Federal Union. The words of the secessionists themselves should condemn their motives for all who read the original documents rather than relie upon the interpretations of anyone intent upon rewriting history.

The reasons for the separation and cause of the American Civil War was first and last slavery.

The declarations of the immediate causes which induced and justified the secession can be found here -

http://www.bessel.org/slavecw.htm .

If you choose to read the declarations, supporting speeches, and messages keep in mind that the word "property" meant "slaves" not wagons, horses, picks and shovels - human beings, nothing else. Property was Africans held as slaves.

Grimmy said...

Yeah...the US Civil War wasn't about slavery at all.

Mass marches on seats of governance didn't happen over the issue of slavery as new territories were being added to the Union.

Guerrilla organizations that conducted cross border raids against each other from abolitionist and slave holding states weren't murderously bloody.

There wasn't a new political party created (Republican party) to expressly push the issue of abolishion at the national level...

Yeah... it wasn't about slavery at all.

He was spot on about FDR being a total moron in dealing with either the econ or with Stalin, and Wilson being enormously dangerous though.

America really doesn't need the eurotardation of communism when we've got our own, home grown, Wilsonianism that matches it in every pathetic social utopianist idiocy, except easily regurgitated slogans... well, The Wilsonian types do just adopt the works of the marxist sloganeers when such things are needed.

gun-totin-wacko said...

I'd like to add one perspective about the Civil War, since Indigo Red covered the rest so well.

One of the unknown problems that led to the War was the disproportionate influence the South had over the Union. How many antebellum presidents were from Virginia? Or the South as a whole? Compare that to the number from the South in the last 100 years.

The Supreme Court was also comprised, for the most part, of Southerners. Many of the leaders in Congress-both houses- were also from the South.

Given the difference in population, that made for a bit of tension. Add in the fact that the politicians in the South had an added benefit from the 3/5ths clause (for our foreign readers, it counted each slave as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of assigning congressional representation) which effectively meant that someone from a state with a large slave population "represented" people with literally no voice or role in politics. That gives a lot of influence to the white men that did have the right to vote.

All of that influence was focused on issues that benefited the South, often to the detriment of the Northern states. And one of the major issues was, of course, slavery.

*******
To shift gears a bit, in the review there's a comment about how FDR's handling of the stock market crash in 1929 made things worse. Is this an error by the reviewer, the author, or did FDR have a role in policing Wall Street that I'm ignorant of?

I dunno. I'm a major history geek, but this one sounds like a leftist trying to "prove" that everything he holds dear is Good, and anything he doesn't like is Bad. I think I'm gonna have to pass on this one.

whiskey_199 said...

I've skimmed through the book, it was mostly garbage. Dead wrong on the Civil War, dead wrong on the Cold War (Stalin and his successors pointing missiles and bombers at us required a huge standing military) and dead wrong on FDR wrt Stalin.

FDR could have been a hard liner, or meek and mild. It would not have mattered at all since Stalin would take what he would take. There was no way short of war with Stalin which the US population would NOT support to prevent Eastern Europe from being absorbed into Stalin's empire. People were sick of war, we'd lost half a million in it, and no one wanted to keep fighting.

As for "illegal" wars, we fought plenty of them BEFORE WWI. Off the top of my head, the wars with the Spanish in Florida who aided the Seminoles in the early 1800's. Andrew Jackson in the thick of it. The Mexican American War, and before it aid to the Texicans establishing the Republic of Texas. The Spanish American War, and the decades long suppression of first the Filipino nationalist and then the Islamic Moro guerillas. Done in part to suppress the Islamic slave taking.

Not to mention intervention in Mexico, Nicarauga, and Haiti to prevent unfriendly governments before WWII. "Gangster for Capitalism" anyone? Smedley Butler?

Henrik R Clausen said...

What a lot of interesting comments!

For the minorities thing, it's partly a misphrasing on my side. The point is that being a minority, in a segregated school, doesn't cause bad performance. The whole excuse for the 'busing' thing was crap.

And yes, FDR changed a stock crash to a depression. This is profoundly interesting, and I'll happily elaborate, for the kind of left-wing government control he did was massively damaging. But later, for now I have to go play with my 6-year boy :)

Avery Bullard said...

Yep...there are Chinese heralding from the mainland, Chinese from HK, Koreans Japanese, and a few others. But the important point, I guess, is that they are all Asians. The implication that other minorities routinely set the curve is not the case.

What about Indians and others from the subcontinent? They are Asians too, of course, but of different ethnicity. A lot of the Indians in america are high caste Hindus who usually do very well at school.

gun-totin-wacko said...

Quick note regarding FDR and Stalin: Let's not forget that by the time of the Yalta conference, FDR had one foot in the grave, and the other on a banana peel. He was in horrible shape, 3/4 dead. Might that not have played some role?

Sagunto said...

@Fjordman,

In what way would not mentioning the case of Giordano Bruno be a drawback for the book by Thom Woods you referred to?

Stogie said...

The alleged quote of Jefferson Davis above of Jan 5, 1863 is a fraud. It is so described in the biography of Jefferson Davis written in the 1930's by a northern historian. Davis never made any such speech.

Yes, the War was not to preserve slavery, but to retain the power to tax and to control the Southern states, whose payment of Northern tariffs largely financed the United States of that time period. Without the Southern states, revenue would be slashed to the bone and Southern ports opened to foreign trade without a tariff, effectively ruining Northern high-tariff ports of entry.

Yes, the South absolutely wanted to preserve the institution of slavery; no, the North did not absolutely want to abolish it. In fact, Northern textile mills and industries were heavily depended on slave-grown cotton from the South.

The problem with Northern history is that it is a whitewash, a fairy tale of the good and glorious North punishing the backward and villainous South in the name of the glorious rights of man, racial equality, etc etc ad nauseum.

I haven't read this book but I will. Thanks for the review.

Independent Accountant said...

I have long viewed Woodrow Wilson as the worst president we ever had. Clinton's Balkans policy and Bush's nation building in Iraq are taken from Wilson's book. Wilson also brought us the Fed, prohibition and women voting. Top that for a record.

Henrik R Clausen said...

The American Civil War is a subject I'll largely leave it to my American friends to debate. But let me throw in a few quotes and details from Woods, and let me know if anyone considers these to be false:

I will say that I am not, and have never been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people [...] (Abraham Lincoln, 1858)

[...] the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the southern and northern states, that in this national emergency Conbress, banishing all feeling of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality and rights of the several States unimpaired; that as soon as these objects are accomplished, the war ought to cease. (US Congress, July 26 1861)

No mention of abolishing slavery.

Note also the Northern (!) disunionists - four states left the Union in protest against the war itself.

There's almost a guarantee in there that the States would be able to maintain the institution of slavery even after a defeat, and a constitutional admendment, supported by Lincoln, was close to making that explicit.

If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side. (Ulysses S. Grant, Union general)

Henrik R Clausen said...

Afonso, Woodrow Wilson is a very strange character to have become president. While abuse of power had been known before, he was the first to implement fascism (under the name of 'Wartime Socialism') in the US. I suggest reading Liberal Fascism to understand more about this weird and unstable person, who even did not respect his own post-WWI principles.

I would not trust Wikipedia to give a fair description in a case like this. Woods is quite extensive in reporting his misadventures. Staying out of WWI probably would have been a better choice, not least for us Europeans...

Henrik R Clausen said...

And now for FDR :)

No, he didn't control Wall Street directly. He did, however, control a lot of other stuff.

First off, it's worth noting that the president during the crash, Herbert Hoover, did a LOT of things to fix the crisis. Like these:

- He requested the industry not to lower wages in spite of falling prices. This directly made it harder for business to hire more people, and by keeping wages constant while business income was dropping, business profit plummeted and many went bankrupt.

High wages were not the cause of good times, they were a symptom of it. By requesting wages to remain high instead of permitting a natural correction, mass unemployment and poverty followed.

Farming was producing a glut of products, which after the end of WWI couldn't be sold to Europe. Now, after the crash some people had trouble affording food - a condition rarely seen in the West today, but back then a very real problem.

Now, how does the Hoover administration react to a situation like this? It could:

- Utilize tax money to make food more affordable for the poor.

- Let the market correct itself by letting prices fall, making food more affordable and scaling back the problem.

- Encourage export of the surplus so that cash could be earned and more Americans get hired.

It did none of these. First, the federal government paid to keep the products away from the market, keeping prices high and permitting farmers in other countries to snatch the market.

When that didn't quite help people in need, the government decided to DESTROY the surplus! Great help for those starving...

Oh. Hoover also increased taxes (not a great time to do that), supported failing industries and started public-work projects that took resources from the private industry.

FDR, as later admitted by his advisors, largely took over these policies. Hoover was outsted in 1932, as his policies had caused a 25 % unemployment rate. As FDR continued the basic misadventures of Hoover, unemployment didn't go below 18 % until WWII, at which point the surplus work force was basically drafted.

Only after the war was economical regulation abandoned and the free markets recovered the prosperity of the 20's.

It's interesting to recall that we had a similar stock market crash in 1987. Reagan wasn't interested in following the example of FDR, and no Great Depression followed.

Oh. Hoover/FDR also introduced farming subsidies that still haunt world economy...

I can't type up all of the relevant material from Woods on this subject, and didn't follow through to read his sources. But given the obvious stupidity of what FDR did, I hardly need to.

Unless someone proves Woods wrong. I leave this as a challenge for the reader :)

Henrik R Clausen said...

Thanks, Fjordman. Yes, I have his book on the Catholic Church, too, which is quite in line with Rodney Stark on the subject.

Woods also made this wonderful analysis of the "Principles of '98", which we talked about recently here. I think it is a lovely way to understand the constitution - be it the US one or the failed EU one - that the member states have equal right to interpret it.

Ain't wise to enter a negotiation where one does not have a clear and usable option to walk out on it. Reading the details of how the EU was constructed makes that as clear as ever...

Diamed said...

The civil war was about slavery. Every southern district with few slaves sided with the north--west virgina, parts of arkansas and tennessee, etc. Every high-slave area in the border states sided with the south and even fielded troops for the south. It was completely clearcut down slavery lines and no other factor was involved. The south brought its doom upon itself. To claim you are fighting for freedom and rights while counting other people as property with no rights, is an intolerable double standard that no one should have to listen to for two seconds.

Henrik R Clausen said...

A possible compromise about "Was it about slavery?" might be: "Officially not".

Here in Europe we had abandoned the whole idea 600+ years earlier on ethical grounds. Only areas in contact with Islam had slavery after then. That goes for the colonies as well, as Arab traders sold the slaves to the colonial masters in the New World.

The post-war treatment of the South is an interesting aside, not least the part of the Republicans. Abe Lincoln might have been more amicable in the process.

Afonso Henriques said...

Henrik,

thanks for the relativeley detailed information.
I just want to say that for what I've read, you can not culpabilize "the Man" for the crisis. All you can do is accuse him of miss managment of it.

About the Slavery question... didn't Lincoln himself wanted to export all the "African-Americans" to Liberia?

So what? He was trying to create a Nation and a real Nation would be better off without minorities. We did the same to Jews and muslims, Spain either, Turkey... I'll not mention. Look to what Sweden has made to the Lapps.

But if you prefer to believe, do it! The American Civil War was all about slavery; The Second World War was all about saving poor defensless Jews...

Diamed said...

Yes, Lincoln did want to deport them all, as did the American Colonization Society which included:

James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, James Monroe, Stephen Douglas, John Randolph, William Seward, Francis Scott Key, General Winfield Scott, John Marshall and Roger Taney.

If we had combined freeing the slaves with deporting them, they could hardly complain since they had never been citizens in the first place. Unfortunately Lincoln was assassinated, the plan was abandoned, and the window of opportunity vanished. Now blacks are equal citizens of the USA and, so long as the USA exists, it is as much black as it is white.

Mass deportations of people who should never have been here in the first place, is not equivalent to slavery. So just because the North did not yet love blacks, doesn't change the fact that they were fighting to abolish slavery (at first the idea was to do it gradually and reenumerate slaveholders, however as the South fought on the North grew bitter and dispensed with any idea of being nice about it), and the South to preserve it.

To imagine the harm the South did, it first enslaved and carried people here by force, then wouldn't let them free, then killed the person who would have deported them, then slapped discriminatory laws upon them for ANOTHER hundred years, and is still griping about how unfair the war was.

Henrik R Clausen said...

As far as I know, it was actually Arab traders doing the enslaving in West Africa, then selling the 'product' to the colonists.

Afonso Henriques said...

Just to end all this I would like to say that we shall not culpabilise the Europeans nor the Arabs for what happen, I mean, for slavery.

The first European people to enslave black en mass were the Portuguese, and if you can be impartial to all the white bashing, you will rapidly understand that it was a comercial activity like all the others.

We traded raw materials and artesanate by slaves, we traded them because their black tribal leaders had slaves they had captured from the war. Of course, we had better weapons, we had a "superior" civilisation, but we didn't go there to "enslave" Africans, we've bought the slaves by ridiculous prices.

So did the Arabs. The great majority of black slaves were already enslaved by other Africans. If you want to blame someone, blame the low level of Civilisation in Africa.

This is not an excuse for slavery though.

You people forget that both Europeans and muslims enslaved themselves through times untill Europeans were to consider slavery immoral.

Henrik R Clausen said...

You people forget that both Europeans and muslims enslaved themselves through times until Europeans were to consider slavery immoral.

I'm not forgetting.

That happened some 800 years ago in the 1st Renaissance, and is a testament to the greatness of Christian and European philosophy and humanitarianism. We sure beat the Romans on that account - too :)

Thomas Rogers said...

I linked to this page from this post on my blog:
why is Gone With the Wind relevant today?

I tried to work out how to do the trackback/links-to-this-post thing, but think I did something wrong.

I thought it was only polite to tell you I'd linked to your blog post. =)

I also wondered if anyone could tell me how to get the trackback/links-to-this-post thing to work, as all the guides I've seen on the internet so far don't help me =(.

Thanks,

Conservative Swede said...

Diamed,

Your last comment here is very important and touches upon things that I consider of highest interest, and which I have been pondering much upon.

I'm late in the thread, and I have no time to write right now. But remind me to get back to this at an appropriate time again.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Stalin and his successors pointing missiles and bombers at us required a huge standing military.

This is another complex thing not easily boiled down to one sentence...

First off, Stalin didn't have an array of nuclear missiles and long range bombers at his disposal. 'Joe' died in 1953, and the Soviet nuclear fleet was just being established at that time. The 'Missile gap' that US politicians worried so much about was a mirage - initially. Things changed, but that was later.

The conventional forces of Soviet Russia was another matter. And one where I'm indebted with no end to my American friends, not least Reagan, to keep them away from invading us. That doesn't keep me from being critical of current mistakes of the US government, but my underlying loyalty is unmoved by Bush & Co doing some foolish stuff today.

Jason_Pappas said...

Woods is quite erratic and many have covered his limitations. Of course his constitutionalist-libertarian worldview is similar to mine. However, he tends to miss other dimensions of the problem and fails to weigh the facts to present an accurate picture of history. On some of the big players (Wilson, FDR, LBJ) he’s right.

One of the problems with the PIG series is its narrow focus on points missed by conventional historians. As a consequence it doesn’t always integrate all the elements, weighed in proportion of importance, to present an integrated picture. Still, they are good polemical works that spur debate. They should be seen as starting points for debate … like we see in the comments above. But that’s what’s great with this (and other) sites: provocative debate.

PS, best wishes for Dymphna’s speedy recovery.

Henrik R Clausen said...

we shall not culpabilise.

That bears repeating.

I think Woods makes a nice contribution to this end by shaking up quite a few cliches :)