Monday, December 30, 2013

Bennett's New Deal

Evaluate the effectiveness of Bennett's proposed New Deal programs in Canada.  Was it possible for Bennett to remain a conservative and propose similar programs to FDR?  How were his programs received by his constituents and how did they effect the election of 1935?

Bennett vs. King

As King loses the 1930 election and Canada moves into a conservative administration under RB Bennett, we see a key transition in policy towards coping with the depression.  How might this change compare to the one the United States experienced in 1932 when they replaced Hoover with FDR?  How did Bennett's policies differ from King's?  How effective were his early measures?

Canada: King's Responses to the Depression

Again, consider how Canada experienced the Great Depression with your previous knowledge of the United States.  Pay particular attention to Prime Minister Mackenzie King's speech on p. 153.  How would you evaluate King's response to the depression?   How would you compare it to Hoover and FDR?

The Canadian Experience

No country was immune to the Great Depression, but each country certainly had its own unique experience with the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s.  Canada's geography made it an interesting case--while it was immediately involved in World War I because of its political connections to Great Britain, it was immune to the physical calamities of the war. 

Based on your perception of the reading, how are Canada's before the Great Depression different?  What does it have to do with Canada's political structure?  How about geography?  

(as for the picture above, I just couldn't help myself...)

FDR and Obama--cut from the same cloth?

After watching the clips, I am wondering, is the old adage "the more things change, the more they stay the same" relevant here?

I know you were all relatively young in 2008, but our economy was very precarious, and we were not sure whether we would face another depression like in the 1930s.  This might make the comparison all the more relevant.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stories from O Brother

"O Brother Where Art Thou" provides some interesting allegories about people's various experiences during the Depression.  Many of these stories deal with the desperate and/or strange moves people make to cope with the economic hard times.

Share one scene (or recurring relationship if that's easier) from the film that stood out to you as a poignant Depression coping mechanism.  Describe a bit about it and why you chose it (was it the visual, musical, acting, etc.).  In what ways do you think the film represents how the Depression shapes human nature?  Is it accurate?

Friday, December 13, 2013

How Important is Attitude?

It is arguable that more has been written about FDR's personality than his actual policies. Also, his life experiences overcoming adversity in many ways made him an ideal leader (even if many of his constituents did not know he could not walk!). What are some key examples of FDR's optimism that stood out to you in the reading, and why? Is optimism FDR's greatest policy?

Critiquing the New Deal

While the New Deal was certainly a period of action marked by a series of government experiments, we still disagree on whether or not it was a success. The recession of 1937 proves that the programs were not resistant to economic decline, and the unemployment rate was still high by the late 1930s, despite the steady growth of the GDP over the decade. 

Which criticisms of the New Deal do you find most convincing?  Are they at all reminiscent to economic or political rhetoric that we still use today?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Moving Forward No Matter What

These sources indicate the importance of action in New Deal programs.  The piece about the Dust Bowl shows us the sense of desperation in those that have not moved forward.  The Oklahoma and pandhandle of Texas suffered so much from environmental destruction that many people found it necessary to leave the region entirely. 

The New Deal programs demonstrate that not only is it important for people to get back to work, but also to utilize natural resources in a more efficient and productive manner.  FDR stresses that rebuilding the country also means improving it for the future and ensuring that it would continue to grow. In addition to the Hoover dam, the Chrystler building, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller center and Mount Rushmore (to name a few) were all completed in the midst of the Great Depression.  Clearly these were all very expensive projects, and they all epitomize America today.  The old adage, "you have to spend money to make money" resonates with me as I imagine the country in crisis continuing to build rather than recoil in fear.

What, in your mind, did these New Deal programs accomplish?  What impact did they have on how the United States imagined itself?

FDR -- Leader or Shrink?

FDR's New Deal programs marked action rather than Hoover's inaction, and his ability to restore confidence in the American people is credited to pulling the nation out of the Depression.  To what extent was FDR acting as a psychological therapist to a very depressed United States?  Was his success more ideological than it was physical?  Or was only seeing believing for the very disillusioned public? 

Consider how some sick patients treated with placebos often are cured from their ailments even if they are not given any actual medication.  Did the United States simply need a more positive outlook?

Monday, December 9, 2013

It is no system of laissez-faire...

While President Hoover was heavily criticized for not doing enough to alleviate the initial problems of the Great Depression, he had already gained a reputation as a great provider of relief.  Hoover also seems critical of absolute capitalism and the potential dangers of large businesses holding monopolies ("it is no system of laissez faire"). 

What is, then, Hoover's ideal imagination of the government and the economy?  How does it manifest itself in his initial relief programs?  Why doesn't it work?

And then, the inevitable question--what do you make of the repatriation of Mexican Americans?  Why did the Hoover administration approve this?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Alright, we've had our fun, now let's get back to business

The Progressive Era is regarded by many as a temporary social, economic, and political experiment.  The Middle Class, and eventually governments themselves saw it as their responsibility to fix the problems brought about by massive industrialization and urbanization.  This reading portrays some of the agendas of postwar America as continually forward thinking, and that “welfare capitalism” was seen as the avenue for businesses to support continued economic prosperity. The image of capitalists as the new source of progress was both convincing and appealing, as their “free will” seemed enough to propel them to employ many, pay good wages, keep costs low, and thus encourage spending.  While this may have worked temporarily, it provided no protection to employees during the next inevitable economic slump.  It also made it appear that the new enemies of progress were not the corrupt practices of business but rather the continued vice and inability to assimilate among the poorest immigrant classes and ethnic minorities.  Perhaps this is why a candidate like Hoover was considered ‘normal’—not because he actually fit any previous standard, but he represented the old-stock Protestant American, and thus the best protector against the dangers of a “big-city” driven government. 

Sounds convincing, right?  In many ways it does, but to me, the paradox still seems unsettling.  Why were Americans so quick to blame outsiders yet again for the limits to the American dream?  Do you think Americans were duped by welfare capitalism, or was there some merit to this way of thinking?  And finally, do you think these thoughts still occur today, when immigration reform is a recurring (and seemingly unsolvable) problem?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Spending and Rolling the Dice

Clearly it would be misleading to assign one sole cause (like the crash of '29) to the Great Depression.  And while all the causes are valid, some are more interesting to examine than others because of the way they continue to shape our spending patterns

Relying on credit for purchases was a virtually new practice in the 1920s.  Stretching out payment plans made the average American able to afford luxury items for the first time.  However, buying an item on credit is not a payment as we all know--it is merely a promise to pay.  Effectively then, every purchase on credit that we make carries a risk.  What happens if we buy that expensive car, take out a student loan, etc., and then lose our job?  Defaulting on a loan is equally bad for business as it is for the consumer.

SO....why did retailers do it?  Why was the phenomenon of credit purchases so popular in the 1920s?   Why do you think it is so prominent today, despite the fact that it proved to be a colossal mistake during the Depression?

Sunday, December 1, 2013


As the introduction to Arthur Link's article indicates, the 1920s were patented by the time's politicians as a "return to normalcy."  In fact, this phrase was the pillar of Warren Harding's successful presidential bid in 1920. 

I hate to delve into a psychological analysis so soon after a break, but it begs the question, what is normal?  In a country that was less than 150 years old, is it accurate to label Republican leadership or laissez-faire economics as "normal?"  What arguments does Link make for why the Progressive Era failed to carry itself into the 1920s?  Which ones are the most convincing?