Boris Johnson has a new hero. The US-born Prime Minister’s usual favoured role model is Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill – he has even written a biography of the great man. But in outlining his plans for kick starting Britain’s coronavirus crippled economy today, Boris says that the UK needs a ‘Rooseveltian’ revival.
It was not the New Deal that dragged the US out of Depression but the Second World War
The reference is to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected in 1932 as the US staggered under the blows of the Great Depression, triggered by the 1929 Wall Street crash. Unemployment was rocketing, businesses going bust, banks were foreclosing on mortgages, and farms were becoming dustbowls.
FDR was elected on a tidal wave of despair mixed with hope. His Democratic Party ticket stitched together a coalition of the urban poor, ethnic minorities, the southern states, bankrupt farmers and starry eyed leftist idealists. Although immensely wealthy himself, the new President presented himself as a representative of America’s have nots – the millions who had somehow missed out on the American dream.
Roosevelt’s New Deal programme was based on the ideas of the famous British economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynesian economics advocated pumping borrowed money into people’s pockets, so that they would spend the cash and so kickstart stalled business. At the same time, the state would create jobs with a huge programme of state run public works such as the Hoover Dam. Superficially It was an attractive idea, but how well did it actually work?
The answer is not well at all. As time has passed, revisionist economic historians have crunched the numbers and concluded that the New Deal not only failed to end unemployment, – which varied between 14 and 18 percent of the workforce throughout FDR’s four terms in the White House – but actually prolonged the Depression and made it worse than it need have been.
In the end, it was not the New Deal that dragged the US out of Depression but the Second World War. The war galvanised the economy, put jobless workers into uniform and turned out streams of planes, tanks, ships and weaponry from vast factories in which women worked alongside men.
Behind the rhetorical spin, the cosy radio ‘ fireside chats’ and the masterly propaganda, the New Deal was as fake as the PR sleight of hand that hid Roosevelt’s Polio-induced paralysis from the American people. Moreover, FDR’s policies marked a shift from the rugged individualism that had built the US to collectivism and an unhealthy dependence on the state.
But state welfareism was all the rage in the 1930s. It is no accident that a politician who became leader of his country in the same month as FDR’s first inauguration – January 1933 – pursued the same economic policies as Roosevelt. That person, of course, was Adolf Hitler, with his programme of autobahn building, state run factories and make work fake jobs.
Accused by his growing army of opponents of being a would-be dictator himself; FDR attempted to pack the Supreme Court with his own stooge judges, and manipulated the US constitution to secure an unprecedented ( and never repeated) fourth term in office.
There is no doubt that FDR had a tenderness towards dictators, even if he did not entirely succeed in becoming one himself. At the Yalta conference in February 1945, to Churchill’s fury, a mortally sick Roosevelt let the genocidal maniac Stalin walk all over him and condemned Eastern Europe to half a century of Communist enslavement. The Roosevelt administration was packed with Stalin’s spies such as Alger Hiss, allowing the US development of the Atom Bomb to be betrayed to the Soviets.
So, before Boris goes completely overboard in a new bout of hero worship, he needs to take a closer look at his new hero’s record. Above all, perhaps, he should remember that Roosevelt was anti-British. FDR kept the US out of the war until America was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and Hitler obligingly declared war on the US rather than the other way around.
Roosevelt’s only contribution to the survival of Britain as, alone, it battled Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in 1940 was the grudging release of fifty redundant, clapped out, rust bucket WW1 era destroyers – but only in exchange for the US use of British bases. FDR’s open goal was the destruction of the British Empire and the end of Britain as a great power. FDR and his New Deal was bad for Britain – and bad for the US as well.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe