Thomas Sowell

Whenever the party that controls the White House does not also control Capitol Hill, political pundits worry that there will be "gridlock" in Washington, so that the government cannot solve the nation's problems.

Almost never is that fear based on what actually happens when there is divided government, compared to what happens when one party has a monopoly of both legislative and executive branches.

The last time the federal government had a budget surplus, instead of its usual deficits, there was divided government. That was when the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, where all spending bills originate, and Bill Clinton was in the White House. The media called it "the Clinton surplus."

By the same token, some of the worst laws ever passed were passed when one party had overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as being led by their own President of the United States. ObamaCare is a product of the kind of arrogance that so much power breeds.

It was the same story back in the famous "first hundred days" of the New Deal in 1933. The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 clamped down on the American economy the kind of pervasive government control seldom seen outside of totalitarian countries.

It was the ObamaCare of its time, but covering industries right down to local dry cleaners. One man was sent to jail for charging less than the government-specified price for pressing a suit of clothes. This typified the mindset of the New Deal.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court eventually declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional. But, before that happened, the N.I.R.A. probably did more to prevent the economy from recovering from the Great Depression than any other law or policy. Even liberal icon John Maynard Keynes said at the time that the N.I.R.A. "probably impedes recovery."

You cannot tell what effect a law or policy will have by what politicians call it, whether they label it a "recovery" program or a "stimulus" program.

Those who fear gridlock in Washington today implicitly assume that government actions are needed to "solve" the economy's "problems." That assumption has been so pervasive over the past 80 years that many people fail to realize that the republic existed for nearly twice that long before the federal government intervened to get the economy out of a recession or depression.

During all that time, no depression ever lasted even half as long as the Great Depression of the 1930s, when first President Hoover and then President Roosevelt intervened.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate