Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Challenge to the Obama Narrative of 20th-Century Economic History

According to Brian Domitrovic, the chair of the history department at Sam Houston State University, Barack Obama needs a lesson in economic history.  Here is a taste of his piece at Forbes with some of my thoughts interspersed.

“Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.” So said President Obama to his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, in the debate last week.

How odd all of this is. The foreign policy of the 1980s was stellar. It ended the Cold War, one of the singular accomplishments in the history of American leadership.


As for the social policies of the 1950s, lest we forget, these were precisely the ones so progressive and overbearing that they convinced Ronald Reagan to launch a career in politics. Federal spending on “Human Resources,” as the government calls it, on health, education, “income security,” and the like went up 95% in real terms from 1949 to 1960.

Reagan watched the march of federal do-goodism in the 1950s and felt compelled to push on from his job at General Electric and look for a foothold in politics. Reagan explained as much in his political debut, his noted speech at the 1964 Republican convention, “A Time for Choosing.”

Then there are “the economic policies of the 1920s.” Which would be the economic policies that accompanied the single most celebrated decade of American prosperity of them all.

Just a couple of thoughts/questions:

1.  I largely agree with Domitrovic when he says "the foreign policy of the 1980s was stellar. It ended the Cold War, one of the singular accomplishments in the history of American leadership." But we are not fighting the Cold War anymore.  I think that was Obama's point.

2.  On the 1920s:  Didn't some of these economic policies lead to the Great Depression?