Ideologies during the Depression

jeudi 12 novembre 2009 ·

For the past few weeks, I have immerged in readings about the Great Depression in the United States and I have found myself to be completely stunned by the ideologies running around at the time. Far from being an era where everyone subscribed to laissez-faire and capitalism, it was a time of what president Hoover called "welfare capitalism" and then "corporativism" with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both the Republican Party to a large extent and the Democratic Party to a lesser extent subscribed to progressivism and conservatives seem in fact to have been a very small political minority in the US.

But that is not what stunned me, what did stun me was how many actors around FDR and even around Hoover were admittedly fascistic. The best example is the National Industrial Recovery Act(NIRA). As I did with my previous post on Duplessis, I use the definition of the economic policies of fascism from The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

Under fascism, the state, through official cartels, controlled all aspects of manufacturing, commerce, finance, and agriculture. Planning boards set product lines, production levels, prices, wages, working conditions, and the size of firms. Licensing was ubiquitous; no economic activity could be undertaken without government permission. Levels of consumption were dictated by the state, and “excess” incomes had to be surrendered as taxes or “loans.”

It is a definition that fits perfectly with NIRA which was a strong regulation of prices and competition so that wages would not drop. The economy was divided by sections of industries where all prices were regulated (including dry cleaners, which shows the extent of the regulatory process). The object was to reduce competition and output in order to keep prices and incomes of particular groups from falling. Such policies extended to the agricultural sector with the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).

The similiraties with the economic policies of fascism are striking. What is more striking are quotations from policy advisers to FDR which, more than the praise of Mussolinni motivated by the hatred of communism, show a deep commitment on their part to fascism. A staunch supporter of FDR and one of his advisers, Charles A Beard of DePauw University was actually enthusiastic for the NIRA who proved that "FDR accepts the inexorable collectivism of the American economy . . . national planning in industry, business, agriculture and government" (as quoted from Burton Fulsom's New Deal or Raw Deal). Others like General Hugh Johnson, who was in charge of the National Recovery Administration, were commited fascists. Johnson actually distributed copies of The Corporate State originally printed by the Italian Fascist party to members of his administration. Even Rexford Tugwell, a close adviser to FDR, was actually quoted saying that the Italian fascist transformation was the "the cleanest … most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It makes me envious". They actually believed that the right sets of policies to pull the United States out of depression were fascistic policies.

It is stunning to see that the United States actually had such a fascist movement in the 1920-1930 and how it actually resisted it and remained a democracy. I believe it shows the strengh of American democratic institutions (especially the Supreme Court who struck down most of FDR's policies as unconstitutionnal and who withstood threats by FDR to boost the number of justices on the SC by nominating more justices of his likings).

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Bryan Breguet est candidat au doctorat en sciences économiques à l’université de Colombie-Britannique. D’origine Suisse, il a passé les cinq dernières années au Québec au cours desquelles il s’est engagé en politique provinciale malgré le fait qu’il ne possédait pas encore la citoyenneté canadienne. Il détient un B.Sc en économie et politique ainsi qu’une maitrise en sciences économiques de l’université de Montréal. Récipiendaire de plusieurs prix d’excellences et bourses, il connaît bien les méthodes quantitatives et leurs applications à la politique.

Vincent Geloso holds a master’s degree in economic history from the London School of Economics, with a focus on business cycles, international development, labor markets in preindustrial Europe and the new institutional economics. His research work examined the economic history of the province of Quebec from 1920 to 1960. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the Université de Montréal. He has also studied in the United States at the Washington Centre for Academic Seminars and Internships. Mr. Geloso has been an intern for the Prime Minister’s cabinet in Ottawa and for the National Post. He has also been the recipient of a fellowship from the Institute for Humane Studies and an international mobility bursary from the Ministère des Relations internationales du Québec. Currently, he is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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