The New Deal Was a Great Reset
The New Deal was not a “conservative” program; it was an assault on law, liberty, and the American way of life.
Far from being a conservative social revolution, as has been recently argued in these pages, the New Deal was a “Great Reset,” a period of rapid institutional and policy change directly away from the founding principles of the Republic and directly toward state-directed collectivism.
As David Beito details in The New Deal’s War on the Bill of Rights, FDR and his many minions had a fast and loose relationship with America’s constitutionally guaranteed rights. His first appointee to the Supreme Court, Alabama Senator and KKK attorney Hugo Black, illegally accessed millions of private telegrams, the 1930s equivalent of social media direct messages. Sherman Minton, another U.S. Senator in FDR’s pocket, tried to censor the Philadelphia Inquirer by turning Treasury tax officials against its owner. FDR largely controlled the nation’s radio stations by weaponizing their regulator, the FCC.
Although FDR lost his Supreme Court court-packing battle, he won the war of jurisprudence by transforming high court doctrine anyway. New Deal legislation struck down as unconstitutional, like the National Industrial Recovery Act, came back piecemeal and passed constitutional muster with the votes of Black and eventually seven other FDR appointees, as well as several justices cowed by the blatant attack on the institution. FDR’s Court recast numerous crucial constitutional concepts as powerful tools of federal oppression. In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), for example, the Court upheld the federal government’s right to regulate what a small farmer could grow on his own property for his own consumption with a massive expansion of the application of the interstate commerce clause. Ever since, the rapid growth of the administrative state’s power has proven impossible to prune.
Further, FDR condoned racism and racist policies. In addition to the concentration camps for Japanese Americans and the deliberate snubbing of prominent blacks who dared remain Republican, the New Deal crushed black, Hispanic, and indigenous laborers by pricing them out of the market with minimum wage and pro-union laws while simultaneously reducing their access to mortgages. Even federal relief efforts were stingy because blacks and other people of color tended to live in safe Democrat districts while FDR’s minions sent disproportionate amounts of relief to swing states. To be re-elected to the presidency two times while the economy continued to languish, FDR needed all the votes taxpayer money could buy.
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Had Americans understood how the New Deal had stymied recovery from the Great Depression, FDR would have been booted in 1936. As Jason Taylor shows in Deconstructing the Monolith, the Blue Eagle and NRA codes crushed the natural rebound from the economic nadir hit as FDR took office in March 1933. As George Selgin shows in False Dawn, New Deal monetary policy was a mess. Reflating the money supply—along with a program of not confiscating Americans’ gold, not raising taxes, and not over-regulating business owners—would have allowed that natural economic recovery to continue.
But New Dealers could not have pulled off their Great Reset if the masses had not been paralyzed by fear and made dependent on the federal dole. As detailed in my Liberty Lost, Americans increasingly turned away from their long tradition of ameliorating social problems through self-reliance and voluntary association and towards asking Uncle Sam for succor. Many purely private nonprofits have since become “non-government organizations” dependent upon government grants instead of charitable donations from virtuous citizens.
So far from being a counterrevolution, the New Deal was an assault on the American way of life. Its effects must perhaps be endured, but it is in no way a worthy object of “conserving.”