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The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope - Jonathan Alter, Grover Gardner Those of us alive now have a difficult time understanding the degree of fear and uncertainty felt by people in 1933 when the banks were closing and they had no idea what the future held. One had to live through the time to know how it felt. Even then, some people soon forgot and started complaining about FDR’s efforts to fight the depression. They forgot that before FDR's inauguration may leading thinkers (including the respected columnist Walter Lippman) were encouraging him to assume dictatorial powers in order to save the nation. Conditions were so bad that some people speculated that the last time the world had a similar crisis it was followed by 400 years of "dark ages." And with the wrong people in leadership it could have turned into a dark age. Instead Franklin Roosevelt was able to lift the confidence of the nation.

I can remember my father telling me about Roosevelt closing all the banks in the United States on his first day of being president. He felt FDR had saved the nation. Roosevelt was able to instill the needed confidence in the banks by promising that the banks that were allowed to open again would be safe. The bank’s conditions were reviewed and only the solvent bank’s were allowed to open. Then within weeks, people who had waited in line to get their money out of the bank were now waiting in line to put their money back in. There was no deposit insurance at the time, so the fear of banks failing was real.

Ironically FDR was opposed to deposit insurance at the time. In hindsight it’s apparent that FDR, and most other people at the time, did not understand very much about economics. He sort of took action by intuition. The early New Deal program was actually operated by left over staff from the Hoover administration. Nevertheless, it is obvious that there is no way Herbert Hoover could have instilled the confidence in the banks the way the FDR did. The difference between recovery and disaster was psychological, but nevertheless it was a real difference.

It’s interesting to note that on paper Hoover was much more qualified to be president than FDR. Which indicates that the most important trait needed to be president is charisma. Experience and administrative skill are not all that important for the top person; Others can do that stuff.

The conclusion of this book is that FDR deserves credit for saving democracy, but not ending the depression. The depression was ended by World War II.