Monday, March 9, 2009

March 9, 2009

     We know things are awful.  The Washington Post's headline today is:  "U.S. Downturn Dragging World Into Recession."   Yesterday's:  "The Next Hit: Quick Defaults."  But we've been even worse off in the past and come back.
     The President then reminded us, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."   Franklin Roosevelt, of course, in his First Inaugural in 1933 when the Great Depression was at its height.
     He was candid about the problems:  "Values have shrunken to fantastic levels....our ability to pay has fallen;  government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income...a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problems of existence...."   The country, FDR noted, was not broke:  "Nature still offers her bounty...plenty is at our doorstep" but "the rulers of the exchange of mankind's good have failed....they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence.  They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision and when there is no vision the people perish."
     Roosevelt had a vision, of course;  it involved a greatly expanded role for government to try to stimulate the economy, bring it back to life.  You can argue how successful his efforts were, though as a kid I went to schools and walked over bridges that his Works Progress Administration had built.  Maybe only World War II really ended the Depression, but FDR changed the national mood, got people thinking they could make a difference.
     I think we need a speech like that one of his now.  We need for the president to lay out as simple as possible--few of us are good at economics--where he thinks we are and where he wants to take us.  I don't think he's quite done that yet. Too late to call it an Inaugural, of course.  But maybe a Fireside Chat? 

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