For this discussion, students will pick a strain in the historiography that they believe best reflects the historical reality of the Great Depression and then extrapolate to answer the question:
Are you a Keynesian? Why or why not? Or, are you a free marketeer like Hayek?
It’s important that students become aware of the popular arguments historians have put forward to understand Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression. These should help you think critically about your own position. After you have considered the three strains in the historiography below, answer the question—Are you a Keynesian, or do you agree with Hayek?
The conventional arguments made by historians can be reduced to the following:
1– Economic historians often debate the efficacy of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Many liberal historians (liberal as in “New Deal historians” sympathetic to Keynesian economics) have argued that Roosevelt’s New Deal policies did help lift the American economy from the Great Depression. In short, the American economy was rescued by Roosevelt’s New Deal.
2– Other liberal historians (liberal as in “hard core New Deal historians” that celebrate Keynes), however, have argued that Roosevelt’s New Deal policies did not do enough, and that Roosevelt and the Democrats in fact should have provided a much more rigorous set of programs to help rescue American from the economic abyss. According to this second set of liberal historians, Americans could have emerged from the Great Depression much sooner, with a stronger and more dynamic economy, had Roosevelt and the New Deal Democrats offered a stronger federal response. More intervention was needed.
3–Conservative economic historians (influenced by free market economists like Hayek) have argued that Roosevelt’s New Deal policies slowed the recovery, in part because any attempt by the government to intervene in the economy is largely misdirected, led by incompetents, and in fact worsens the problem. National economic systems are so complex and public policy makers are incapable of understanding the unintended consequences of their programs, therefore practically every attempt by government at reform ends in disaster. Many conservative economic historians have argued that Roosevelt’s New Deal policies prolonged the economic malaise, likely contributed to a deeper economic collapse, and in the process created an enlarged nation-state with a sprawling bureaucracy with powers that threatened American economic liberty. In other words, not only did the New Deal worsen the economic situation, but Americans also suffered a loss of personal liberty because the institutions that came from the New Deal greatly empowered the central state.
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