In "FDR's Folly," author Jim Powell spells out just what the Roosevelt administration did and what consequences followed. It tried to raise farm prices by destroying vast amounts of produce -- at a time when hunger was a serious problem in the United States. It imposed minimum wage rates that priced unskilled labor out of jobs, at a time of massive unemployment.
Behind both policies was the belief that what was needed was more purchasing power and that this could be achieved by government policies to raise the prices received by farmers and workers. But prices do not automatically translate into greater purchasing power, unless people buy as much at higher prices as they would at lower prices -- which they seldom do.
Then there were the monetary authorities contracting the money supply in the midst of the biggest depression in history -- when the economy was showing some signs of revival, until their monetary contraction touched off another big downturn.
With policy after policy and program after program, "FDR's Folly" traces the high hopes and disastrous consequences. It would be funny, like the Keystone cops running into one another and falling down, except that millions of people were in economic desperation while this farce was being played out in Washington.
Perhaps worse than any specific policy under FDR was the atmosphere of uncertainty generated by incessant new experiments. Billions of dollars of investment were needed to create millions of jobs for the unemployed. But investors were reluctant to risk their money while the rules of the game were constantly being changed in Washington, amid strident anti-business rhetoric.
Some of the people who most admired and almost worshipped FDR -- poor people and blacks, for example -- were hurt the most by amateurish tinkering with the economy by Roosevelt's New Deal administration. This book is an education in itself, both in history and in economics. It is also a warning of what can happen when leaders are chosen for their charm, charisma and rhetoric.