The Capital Strike

by on December 3, 2008 at 7:05 am in History | Permalink

Roosevelt went on in later weeks to speculate that the slowdown in investment was not economically explicable but was, rather, part of a political conspiracy against him, a "capital strike" designed to dislodge him from office and destroy the New Deal…In a reprise of his tactics in the "wealth tax" battle of 1935 and the electoral campaign of 1936, Roosevelt loosed Assistant Attorney General Robert Jackson, along with Ickes, to give a series of blistering speeches in December 1937.  Ickes inveighed against Henry Ford, Tom Girdler and the "Sixty Families,"…Left unchecked, Ickes thundered, they would create "big-business Fascist America – an enslaved America."  For his part, Jackson decried the slump in private investment as "a general strike – the first general strike in America – a strike against the government – a strike to coerce political action."  Roosevelt even ordered an FBI investigation of possible criminal conspiracy in the alleged capitalist strike, but it revealed nothing of substance.

(From David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear (p. 352) in The Oxford History of the United States.)

A group of capitalists go on strike to protest a government that is confiscating their wealth. The government vows to force them back to work and sets agents on their trail. Hmmm…..seems like there could be a novel in that.

1 Andrew December 3, 2008 at 7:54 am

There’s a reason that a capital strike is a good premise for a novel, it is preposterous. That Atlas Shrugged updated for the current crisis is more realistic of a modern day John Galt. I don’t even hate politicians enough to forgo profits.

But, it goes to show how spot-on Rand was about the other side. The bureaucrats apparently view progress as a sort of magic, and when it doesn’t happen, by magic, it must be some kind of dark magic behind the scenes.

Boy, I hope Obama doesn’t listen to all the people touting policy empiricism and recovery by ad hocracy.

2 oops December 3, 2008 at 8:16 am

i thought only nixon did this sort of thing

3 Rod December 3, 2008 at 8:56 am

“…sets agents on their trail.”

Are you sure there should be an ‘r’ in that final word?

4 Yancey Ward December 3, 2008 at 9:36 am


“Knights of the Tax Tables” was brilliant!

And 24 popped into my head, too, when reading that citation. I wonder how many others thought of that?

5 Blackadder December 3, 2008 at 10:44 am

I do remember thinking that the recovery plan the government proposes in Atlas was strikingly similar to the NRA.

6 Mark December 3, 2008 at 11:56 am

But Paul Krugman says the slowdown in investment was economically explicable. So who is correct, Krugman or FDR? See

7 Anderson December 3, 2008 at 12:06 pm

More from Kennedy’s book btw:

… Roosevelt seemed to have wrought the worst of all worlds: insufficient government spending to effect recovery, but sufficient government sword-rattling to keep private capital cowed. * * * As for private businessmen, they still hesitated to make new investments. Why, the president mused one night at dinner, did they lack faith in the economy? Because, Eleanor replied tellingly, “They are afraid of you.”

8 DT December 4, 2008 at 10:50 am

When do the rest of us get to go on strike against a government that is confiscating our money and handing it out to the capitalists?

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