The Spectacle Blog

Presto, You’ve Got A Liberal Polemic

By on 2.18.09 | 9:49AM

Liberal pushback in the popular press against "right-wing revisionism" concerning the New Deal has begun. Scott Lehigh of the Boston Globe accuses the "revisionists" of cherry-picking data: citing unemployment figures that exclude public-works employees, quoting FDR's treasury secretary saying all the federal spending hadn't produced a recovery, and using misleading years as benchmarks for unemployment. Lehigh argues that unemployment actually dropped between 1933 and 1937, only spiking again once federal spending was cut.

There are a few problems with all this -- some long-term public works jobs are actually included in the unemployment figures, for example -- but let's start by looking at Lehigh's own cherrypicking. Here are the unemployment figures from 1930 to 1939:

1930 8.7%
1931 15.9%
1932 23.6%
1933 24.9%
1934 21.7%
1935 20.1%
1936 16.9%
1937 14.3%
1938 19.0%
1939 17.2%

Awfully convenient to cite 1937 as a benchmark year, isn't it? True, the numbers do show a "steady decline" in the jobless rate. But unemployment was over 20 percent for most of the period Lehigh cites and never drops below 14 percent after 1930. Some of the New Deal revisionist arguments may well be overstated -- as are some advanced by the counter-revisionists.

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