“Stupid” smart people, example #1

If you go to Wikipedia, and look up Robert Reich, you will find this information:

Robert Bernard Reich […] is an American politician, academic, writer, and political commentator. He served as the 22nd United States Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, from 1993 to 1997.

Reich is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, a former Harvard University professor and the former Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

Reich is an occasional political commentator on programs including Hardball with Chris Matthews, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CNBC’s Kudlow & Company, and APM’s Marketplace. In 2008, Time Magazine named him one of the Ten Most Successful Cabinet Members of the century, and The Wall Street Journal placed him among America’s Top Ten Business Thinkers. On November 7, 2008, he was selected by President-elect Barack Obama to be a member of the President-elect’s economic transition advisory board.

So Robert Reich is not a dummy. He is well educated and reasonably intelligent. So how does he end up writing this: “And we all know what happened after 1929, at least until FDR reversed course.” FDR reversed course? What? FDR was POTUS from March 4, 1933, to April 12, 1945. That totals up to just a smidge over 12 years. 12 years, and the U.S. remained in an economic depression for the entire 12 years. So when did FDR reverse course? The answer is, he didn’t.

Reich would have you believe that when the stock market crashed in 1929 President Hoover tried to shrink the government. This is, of course, not true. Hoover began meddling immediately, trying to use the government to stimulate the economy. His efforts failed miserably. FDR was then elected. He too meddled, to an even greater degree than Hoover. FDR’s efforts were an even bigger disaster. The efforts of these two Presidents are the reasons why the depression did not end by 1933, but rather continued on into the 1940s, and arguably until after the end of World War II. One would think Reich would be smart enough to see this rather obvious fact, or at the very least be able to recognize that FDR clearly did not reverse the course of the Great Depression in the United States.

And I think he easily smart enough to see it. But apparently, he refuses to acknowledge it. Why?

But he goes on to insist:

When consumers aren’t spending, businesses aren’t investing and exports can’t possibly fill the gap, and when state governments are slashing their budgets, the federal government has to spend more. Otherwise, the Great Recession will turn into exactly what Hoover and Mellon ushered in — a seemingly endless Great Depression.

Who does he think he is kidding? Hoover’s presidency ended in 1933. The Great Depression in the U.S. continued well into the 1940s. But Reich wants to blame Hoover and his Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, as if somehow FDR’s policies had nothing to do with the length of the depression. And that is a stupid position to take. Reich should know better.

But his opinion piece does have some amusement value. For example, he does say this: “We’ve fallen into the bad habit of calling these programs ‘entitlements,’ which sounds morally suspect — as if a more responsible public wouldn’t depend on them.” Well duh! Of course a more responsible public wouldn’t depend on them. But then, Reich wants you to think that position is “Social Darwinism”, some sort of “survival of the fittest” extremism that would leave masses of people dying in the streets.

And that is my real problem with his opinion. Okay, so he disagrees with the notion that FDR’s policies contributed to the Great Depression. It’s ridiculous, but no big deal. His real mistake is his false dichotomy that either one supports massive government spending/programs/control of the economy, or one supports “Social Darwinism” and “subject[ing] tens of millions of American families to unnecessary hardship and throw[ing] even more into poverty.” No, really. Go read his post. He really does talk as if those are the only two positions available.

Clearly the major goal of his post is to frighten you into opposing “Social Darwinism” and therefore into opposing Republicans (which isn’t a bad goal in and of itself), and, more importantly, opposing any rhetoric about smaller government and/or fiscal responsibility. Trying to bring down the federal deficit or the national debt to any degree at all, apparently, is tantamount to trying to deliver people into poverty, according to Robert Reich. Never mind that irresponsible government spending is one of the major contributing factors for our current national economic problem (though I am sure Reich would deny that too).

Reich’s solution, “the federal government has to spend more,” is sort of like saying the solution to the problems caused by alcoholism is to drink more liquor. While that may work in the fantasy (and hilarious) world of the Tiki Bar, in reality, it is not just a really stupid idea. It is an obviously stupid idea.

But wait, I’m not finished.

The minor goal of Reich’s post is to shame anyone who does not agree with him that more spending and more programs and more control by the federal government is the solution. Anytime anyone whips out the “Social Darwinism” label, it is to try to paint someone else with shame. If you are one of those folks who thinks the government creating massive debt is bad for the country, Reich wants you to feel shame about holding that position. If you are one of those folks who thinks the government should not be allowed to require you to buy something, Reich wants you to feel shame. He wants you to feel your position is heartless and mean, and therefore contemptible.

But the person who should feel shame is Robert Reich. Not only should he know better than to tell lies about the Great Depression, he should know better than to try to denigrate people for wanting a more fiscally responsible government.

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