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FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression

4 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1400054770
ISBN-10: 140005477X
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"Admirers of FDR credit his New Deal with restoring the American economy after the disastrous contraction of 1929—33. Truth to tell–as Powell demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt–the New Deal hampered recovery from the contraction, prolonged and added to unemployment, and set the stage for ever more intrusive and costly government. Powell's analysis is thoroughly documented, relying on an impressive variety of popular and academic literature both contemporary and historical."
Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate, Hoover Institution

"There is a critical and often forgotten difference between disaster and tragedy. Disasters happen to us all, no matter what we do. Tragedies are brought upon ourselves by hubris. The Depression of the 1930s would have been a brief disaster if it hadn't been for the national tragedy of the New Deal. Jim Powell has proven this."
P.J. O'Rourke, author of Parliament of Whores and Eat the Rich

"The material laid out in this book desperately needs to be available to a much wider audience than the ranks of professional economists and economic historians, if policy confusion similar to the New Deal is to be avoided in the future."
James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate, George Mason University

"I found Jim Powell's book fascinating. I think he has written an important story, one that definitely needs telling."
Thomas Fleming, author of The New Dealers' War

"Jim Powell is one tough-minded historian, willing to let the chips fall where they may. That's a rare quality these days, hence more valuable than ever. He lets the history do the talking."
–David Landes, Professor of History Emeritus, Harvard University

"Jim Powell draws together voluminous economic research on the effects of all of Roosevelt's major policies. Along the way, Powell gives fascinating thumbnail sketches of the major players. The result is a devastating indictment, compellingly told. Those who think that government intervention helped get the U.S. economy out of the depression should read this book."
David R. Henderson, editor of The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics and author of The Joy of Freedom


The Great Depression and the New Deal. For generations, the collective American consciousness has believed that the former ruined the country and the latter saved it. Endless praise has been heaped upon President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for masterfully reining in the Depression's destructive effects and propping up the
country on his New Deal platform. In fact, FDR has achieved mythical status in American history and is considered to be, along with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, one of the greatest presidents of all time. But would the Great Depression have been so catastrophic had the New Deal never been implemented?

In FDR's Folly, historian Jim Powell argues that it was in fact the New Deal itself, with its shortsighted programs, that deepened the Great Depression, swelled the federal government, and prevented the country from turning around quickly. You'll discover in alarming detail how FDR's federal programs hurt America more than helped it, with effects we still feel today, including:

• How Social Security actually increased unemployment
• How higher taxes undermined good businesses
• How new labor laws threw people out of work
• And much more

This groundbreaking book pulls back the shroud of awe and the cloak of time enveloping FDR to prove convincingly how flawed his economic policies actually were, despite his good intentions and the astounding intellect of his circle of advisers. In today's turbulent domestic and global environment, eerily similar to that of the 1930s, it's more important than ever before to uncover and understand the truth of our history, lest we be doomed to repeat it.


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

JIM POWELL, editor of Laissez Faire Books, has been a senior fellow at the Cato Institute since 1988. He is the author of the bestselling book The Triumph of Liberty, which the Wall Street Journal called “a literary achievement,” and he has written more than 400 articles for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, Money magazine, Reason, and numerous other national publications. A world-renowned historian, Mr. Powell studied under Daniel Boorstin and William McNeill at the University of Chicago, and he has lectured across the United States as well as in England, Germany, Japan, Brazil, and Argentina. He lives in Connecticut.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Forum (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140005477X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400054770
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A common historical misconception is that FDR's New Deal rescued the United States from the Great Depression. However, Cato Institute Historian Jim Powell argues that the New Deal exacerbated and elongated the Great Depression. With impressive attention to detail, Powell examines the long-term results of the New Deal and persuasively argues that they crippled the U.S. economy.

In this detailed book, you will learn about the numerous programs the FDR administration brought about, including the following:

* Programs that inundated private businesses with unprecedented waves of regulations, such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the National Recovery Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

* Programs that redistributed wealth from producers to consumers, such as the Federal Emergency Relief Act and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

* Programs that nationalized industries, centrally planned infrastructure or created make-work projects to increase employment such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Powell argues that these programs typically led to poorly planned infrastructure that was more expensive than what could have been acquired in a free market.

The economic results of FDR's programs were devastating. For example, consider the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The price and production controls of the AAA led to perverse practices such as millions of tons of domestic oat and corn being burned while the U.S. simultaneously imported oat and corn, millions of peaches being left to rot and millions of "excess" pigs being needlessly slaughtered while lard was being imported from overseas.
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I believe there will be much dissention and disbelief appearing with regard to books like this. Our US history has become a battleground between liberal (classical liberal - i.e. freedom oriented) and progressive strains of belief. Leaders like FDR (or Wilson, LBJ, Clinton or Obama) are examples of Progressives as leader. FDR's actual efforts are detailed in easy to understand, yet expanded detail here in this work by historian Jim Powell. The "Brain Trust" and their primary programs and actions are laid out, and organized by "type" of action. Chapters like "Why Did FDR Triple Taxes During the Great Depression?", or "Why Did New Dealers Break Up the Strongest Banks?" give you a flavor of the focus upon a particular area of deficiency, as an organizing principle. The era is complex, yet Powell gives us a very clear reading set of materials to work with. This particular work is not a "deep dive", or professional economic treatise, but is popular history, aimed at those who want to get familiar with the main details of the era, most likely going on to other works for really intense research.

As time has made the persona and charisma of FDR far more remote, we will see more works like this, either covering history, correcting the common misperceptions about FDR or the economics of the time, of this presidency, or we will see further fundamental research into the Depression era, which was the setting for FDR's main actions.

One of the most fascinating things about US society is that such a work is drastically needed, in the sense that the very controversial and heavily deplored actions of the New Deal actors is now almost absent from history books.
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Format: Paperback
(Note: I own and have READ all of this book) (...)
Short review:
A heavy read for us simple bears, written by an accomplished academic. It's bursting full of information, and very thought provoking. I like the lay out of the contents, where each of the 19 chapters asks a question, so you know what you are getting into. A must read for anybody willing to seriously set aside prejudices, and look at the underlying facts of FDR's often bizarre and haphazard "experimenting" with the US economy. I urgently need to go read an admiring book (any suggestions?) written by somebody who thinks FDR was a great president, because the more I read about him, I increasingly get the impression he was somewhat of an "economically uninformed klutz" and basically just a shrewd and manipulative bluffer. Who,behind the rhetoric and the "fireside chats" didn't give a hoot about anybody except (votes for) himself. Who only got saved by the distraction of the "crisis" (he provoked?)of Pearl Harbor and WW2. And whose policies and shadow haunt us to this day.
(Sorry, apologies to FDR lovers; I have looked at the dissenters' comments, who absolutely hated this book, and I AM shopping around for some PRO-FDR books. Let's check out the opposition's story...) (Bernanke's essays?)

Long review:
I put the book down a few times, and read other stuff. I went back to it again, and eventually finished it. That tells you either that I'm a dimwit who struggles with words with more than two syllables, or that it's just highly concentrated, heavy-heavy-heavy, with constant new names, dates and places, and lots of leafing back and forwards to follow the plot. Well worth it though.
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