Wednesday, March 28, 2012

FDR Goes to War by Burton & Anita Folsom Part 1

As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to read this latest book by Burton and Anita Fulsom. FDR Goes to War is a good companion book to their previous book New Deal or Raw Deal. While that book deals with the domestic economic policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this book focuses solely on the other Roosevelt, the war president.

FDR was reelected in 1936 because he used domestic policies that literally bought votes, because he rabidly demonized business as the cause of the Depression, and because of American's growing fears of what was happening in Europe. After the bruising battles of WW1, Americans, quite understandably felt fairly isolationist. In addition, seeing Stalin and Mussolini rise to power with their brutal, fascist regimes caused Americans much trepidation. Could this be America's future? Credit to FDR for not going down either path and keeping America a republic, but at the same time, he had no problem ignoring the Constitution (see: wiretapping). Navigating these confusing and dangerous times, FDR knew takes a strong hand.

Unfortunately, recognizing the isolationist bent of Americans, while Roosevelt knew war was coming, he did not prepare. How could he ask the very companies he tried to punitively tax simply for being successful to now switch to building war materials and help him prepare the country? His extreme spending on New Deal programs had drained the coffers and led to dismaying borrowing. In the butter or guns question, he knew guns would be necessary, but butter got him the votes.

By 1940, Europe was already in the midst of WWII. FDR faced businessman Wendell Willkie for an unprecedented 3rd term. Willkie ran against FDR's devastating attacks on business and his failed economic policies, however FDR outwitted him. In the months running up to the election, FDR made up with business, paying them to ramp up making supplies to help Britain. While still claiming isolationism, he turned his presidency on a dime to get ready for war under the veil of helping our allies. Additionally, the accomplished genius Roosevelt knew how to distribute tax dollars in the most politically beneficial, if not most efficient, manner. His reconciliation with business and the focus on the very popular doctrine of isolationism for us and help for them, sucked the wind out of Willkie's campaign and FDR went onto victory.

After the election, FDR came to terms with how unprepared for war the US was. His New Deal would have to be sacrificed. As Secretary of War Stimson summed it up, "The whole thing is a great clash between two big theories and interests. If you are going to try to go to war, or to prepare for war, in a capitalist country, you have got to let business make money out of the process or business won't work, and there are a great many people in Congress who think that they can tax business out of all proportion and still have businessmen work diligently and quickly." But one thing would not be sacrificed. Despite their direct interference with Roosevelt's attempts to prepare for war, unions continued to strike and amass power. However, after awhile, even Roosevelt lost patience with the strikers and sent the Army into a plant to bust the strike.

Despite statements to the contrary, the U.S. was not ready for war in the Pacific when Japan hit us at Pearl Harbor. The people in charge had underestimated the Japanese capabilities and 3000 men died as a result. It was clear by early December that the Japanese would launch an attack somewhere in the Pacific, most likely in the Philippines or Singapore, yet we had no way to disseminate the growing warnings efficiently. The telegram informing Hawaii of an imminent attack was in a messenger boy's bicycle pouch when the bombs hit. While Roosevelt was looking for a good excuse to get the U.S. into the war, he believed the attack would be minor. The extent of the damage shocked the administration. Churchill could not hide his relief that the United States was finally, officially in the war.

In the initial stages of the war, due to lack of preparedness, the U.S. lost battle after battle. However, FDR controlled the reports getting out to the public with his Office of Censorship. It was almost a year before the tide began to turn and the U.S. began to drive back the Japanese in the Pacific and the Germans in Africa.

On the homefront, FDR implemented price and wage controls. Groceries became rationed goods and counterfeit ration books became the rage. The halls of Washington D.C tightly controlled production of all goods in our country. With raw materials in short supply, goods such as copper and rubber were highly regulated by the federal government. Shortages resulted from the controls put in place by FDR and by the sudden increase in demand for items such as blankets and guns for the military. Uncharacteristically, Roosevelt put the needs of the country above his own famous hard-line politicking. Having to wind down his Depression-era programs like the WPA which had always delivered him votes, cost the Democrats dearly in 1942. He stopped demonizing the business world and offered an olive branch to get their help if he was ever going to win the war. His fear, however, was that if he didn't buy votes and castigate the "fat cats" the Republican would win the Presidency. Believing that the only way for him to be reelected in 1944 required winning the war, Roosevelt drastically shifted his priorities.

"If 1942 had been a year of disorganization and defeat, 1943 became the year that American and its allies began to win the war."The Nazis surrendered in Russia, and in Africa, America finally made progress. In 1941 the race to develop an atomic bomb began. Using the huge stockpile of silver which Roosevelt had bought at above market prices to appease the West to replace the extremely scarce copper, American scientists scrambled to build the necessary equipment and facilities to succeed.

Shortages characterized much of the wartime. The administration set up the Controlled Materials Plan, the War Productions Board and others like it to regulate scarce resources. In addition to price and wage controls, food rations, and usurpation of various industries, jobs began to fall under Roosevelt's control. As is always the case when government steps in to regulate and limit, scarcity resulted. The Democrats took the blame for the deficiencies and Republicans went onto win state elections in 1943, raising hopes of defeating Roosevelt in 1944.

The war would not be won without the enlistment of business. "Many New Dealers were outraged to see billions of dollars thrown at large corporations to build their factories, swamp them with business, guarantee their profits and remove their risks." Roosevelt, too, hated to cater to the very industries he had just so effectively demonized in the previous election, but winning took precedent above all. He actually pressured the Justice department to abandon anti-trust lawsuit against DuPont because the weapons they produced were so desperately needed. The lawsuit could wait until after the war. In fact, Roosevelt actually  encouraged businesses to collude in order to most effectively innovate and create the materials needed. Principles fell when a war/reelection hung in the balance. Unleashed from the suffocating New Deal policies, business produced amazing results. In their respective roles in the war efforts, future presidents Eisenhower and Truman both recognized that had New Deal regulations stayed in place, America would have either lost the war or seen victory far delayed. "The war business - with its subsidized factories, cost-plus contracts, and guaranteed markets - was the only game entrepreneurs could play in the United States in the 1940s. Thus, the played it. Even with the hight tax rates, it was a better game than FDR had offered them in the 1930s - when he denounced them as 'economic royalists' and created perpetual uncertainty." Is it any wonder the Depression lasted 10 years?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

After America by Mark Steyn

After America by Mark Steyn is another one of in a long series of books detailing America's decline and looming destruction. I loved it! It's the lighter, wittier version of Ameritopia. If you only read one, figure out if you want the philosophical underpinnings of America explained or if you want the hyperbolic wit from a foreigner's perspective. I think they make a great set.

He begins by laying out the fact that we are broke. Already. Not some looming future brokeness or possibility of default, but actually, factually, broke. He uses a metaphor from Daniel to say that after partying too hard, the writing is already on the wall. Stating facts and figures to show how the interest on the national debt will be our undoing, Steyn gives the alarming fact that by 2020, only 8 short years away, the interest on the debt will consume 15-20% of federal revenues up from 9% today. Unsustainable.  He sums up the depressing prologue with a great quote from economist Herbert Stein, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." That stop will be painful, but it is inevitable. We WILL stop borrowing and spending one way or another.

Steyn starts off right away in Chapter One stating that we are in fact already in decline. We are not going to decline or face the possibility of decline, we are in decline, but just don't realize it yet. He brings up things like our lack of innovation. A visitor from 1880 would be amazed to see the technology of 1950, but perplexed to see the lack of forward movement between then and now. In fact, Steyn quotes a professor stating that he believes the reason we haven't returned to the moon is because we can't! We have lost our ability to innovate. We have been overwhelmed by bureaucracy that has frozen all technical creativity in its stifling labyrinth of rules. See: 911 memorial.

In our decline, we have become a nation of children, wholly dependent on a benevolent government. Tocqueville prophesies all too well what kind of a despot could come to rule in a democracy like America. " seeks,... to keep [the citizens] irrevocably fixed in childhood... it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs... The sovereign extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations - complicated, minute, and uniform - through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous should know not how to make their way... it does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them... it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way... and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd." I include such a long quote because no one could say it more perfectly. Tocqueville so presciently saw the danger of a republic, we elect our own despots and they lull us to sleep. Those few who still work and contribute to society do so only to provide for the government's favored classes. It's called "fairness."

Steyn compares us to Greece, the only difference being that they are further along on the path to ruin than we are. They have already run out of people to stick the bill for their welfare state to. And like them, we are disregarding the signs of our decline. The generous collectivism of big government makes the individuals more selfish. Who will give up the goodies for something so archaic as the good of the country? He believes that "Europe's economic crisis is a mere symptom of its existential crisis: What is life for? What gives it meaning? Post-Christian, post-nationalist, post-modern Europe has no answer to that question, and so it has 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and wonders why the small band of workers in between them can't make the math add up." The math doesn't add up over here either!

Using H.G. Wells book, The Time Machine, as a prophetic novel of modern America, Steyn begins to show how we have become divided onto two groups - the small, soft, passive, genderless elites, called Eloi, and the more dark, feral underclass, the Morlocks. Our modern Eloi have transferred large amounts of money to the unproductive underclass as a way to avoid thinking about them. We have become rich enough to be stupid. We are rich enough to enjoy the benefits of property while decrying the very things that make prosperity possible. We like our nice cars but distain the oil that powers them. We are rich enough to elect Barack Obama on a such an ephemeral plan of hope and change, who believes, "We are the ones we've been waiting for." We feel good. We don't have to do good. We don't have to grow up. The embodiment of the Eloi that Wells describes is Oscar van den Boogaard, the Dutch gay humanist. Upon seeing the decay of Europe and the rapid Islamization of the Continent, he states, "I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it." Where are the men? Where are those who would fight this decline? They have become the Eloi. Stupidity has a price to be paid eventually. And the jig is up.

Great Empires decline. Britain did. We are following in her path. Global dominance transferred rather peacefully from Britain to her offspring across the Atlantic. They have in fact sunk so low as to seem to have no point whatsoever in global affairs. Steyn states, "American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer similar expansion of government and not witness, in enough of the populace, the same descent into dependency and depravity." We are following Britain "into the dank pit of transgenerational dependency, a failed education system, and unsustainable entitlements, even as it makes less and less and mortgages its future to its rivals for cheap Chinese trinkets, most Americans assume that simply because they're American they're insulated from the consequences." To have been born an American was to win the lottery of life. It will not always be so.

"As disastrous as the squandering of America's money as been, the squandering of its human capital has been worse." We are failing in more ways than just economically. Jobs and industries are disappearing. Neighborhood are in decay. Education is in the toilet. See: Detroit. We did this to ourselves. We'd like to believe that if we just get the economy under control we'd be fine. Representative Mike Pence debunks this notion. "To those who say we should simply focus on fiscal issues, I say you would not be able to print enough money in a thousand years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family collapses." Currently the world is dividing into two extremes: the advanced world increasingly centralized where every aspect of life is micro-managed, and the reprimitivizing world. As the book, The Suicide of Reason makes clear, tribalism will defeat the civilized world in the end. We have sown the seeds of our own destruction in our desire for multiculturalism and tolerance.

With the election of Obama, America decided to abdicate our position as a global super power and "city on a hill" for other nations to emulate. "Today we have post-modern, post-great-power rivalry, in which America envies the way the beneficiaries of its post-war largesse have been able to opt out of the great game entirely." We'd like to vote ourselves off the island and be just like everyone else. We begin this process by abandoning our commitment to Israel. "But in leaving Israel to its fate we have told our enemies something elemental and devastating about the will of a decaying West, and of the supposed global superpower." As our foes around the world recognize our decay, we will become the New Jerusalem and finally understand what it means to be the global target of destruction.

Steyn spends an entire chapter describing America after the fall through a letter from the future. Let's just say, it isn't pretty. America has devolved into a balkanized shell of its former self.

Finally he sums up our situation with a chapter entitled, "The Hope of Audacity." We desperately need to become the type of people who make America the type of place where the right thing to do is politically profitable. Remember we did this to ourselves. We cannot blame others for an environment we created that makes it politically expedient to do the wrong thing.

So, what's to be done?

De-Centralize: or as Mark Steyn puts it, "Screw the state. Let's do it ourselves."
Do get out into the real world and see how reality works.

Finally, my favorite - Move to New Hampshire with the Free State Project! The motto in New Hampshire is "Live Free or Die." It sounds like a battle cry. "We'll win this thing or die trying.... But in fact, it's something far less dramatic. It's a bald statement of the reality of our lives in the prosperous West. You can live as free men, but if you choose not to, our society will surely die."

Live free or die.