An accessible economic study of Franklin Roosevelt’s daringly effective monetary policy in the face of the Depression.
The first order of business upon Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 was to abandon the gold standard, as New Deal historian Rauchway (History/Univ. of California, Davis; The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction, 2008, etc.) shows in this nicely focused work on the president’s gradual adoption of Keynesian policy—without actually calling it that at the time. How did FDR come to understand that the economy needed a policy “guided by the hand of man”? Indeed, Rauchway emphasizes that luck had nothing to do with Roosevelt’s policies: he was well-read and well-advised. At the time of economic crisis, bold new ideas had to be embraced, and Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes was among a group of forward-thinking innovators. Having propounded that the gold standard was unnecessary and irrational in his work on the Indian rupee, he had subsequently set forth a grand scheme to get the post–World War I economy moving normally. However, the plan was rejected by President Woodrow Wilson, prompting the economist to write The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), which warned presciently of the cost of excessive reparations on Germany and lack of a stabilizing cooperation among the victors. Rauchway walks readers carefully through these first months and years of FDR’s presidency as he moved to raise prices, push through an inflation bill before Congress, and advocate for an internationally managed currency along Keynesian lines. Holdovers from Herbert Hoover’s failed policies were nudged out, and the new Keynesian thinkers were in—e.g., Henry Morgenthau Jr., secretary of the treasury, and economics professor Harry Dexter White. Moreover, the new currency program was actively used to thwart fascist extremism abroad.
A compelling examination of a still-vilified monetary policy that has continued to show results in spite of conservative criticism.