Harry Truman, free marketeer?

by on August 22, 2009 at 2:46 pm in History | Permalink

Is it possible he was the most deregulatory President of his century?  John Nye writes:

…Harry Truman left office in 1953 a very unpopular man.  Almost no one at the time gave him credit for overseeing a period of rapid recovery that was much broader and more impressive than anything that happened under Roosevelt's tenure — and this at a time when most economists predicted a deep postwar recession.  He did this while shrinking the government and dismantling wartime regulation at a rate Ronald Reagan could only have dreamed of.  He smoothly pulled us back from a regime of wage and price controls that could have easily been allowed to linger…Thanks to Truman we were once again moving in the direction of a competitive, open-access market economy…Yet Truman's stellar reputation today owes nothing to his economic achievements, which most of those who today praise his foreign policy acumen know nothing about.

That's from the Sept./Oct. issue of The American Interest and the article is entitled The Real New Deal (gated).

1 Vernunft August 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Mr. Youngstown himself, deregulator. All right…

2 Unit August 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm
3 Bob Murphy August 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Chris,

Do you have any online sources about that? I never heard that Truman vetoed those efforts, and that definitely changes the story!

4 Colin August 22, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Per wikipedia:

After many years of Democratic majorities in Congress and two Democratic presidents, voter fatigue with the Democrats delivered a new Republican majority in the 1946 midterm elections, with the Republicans picking up 55 seats in the House of Representatives and several seats in the Senate. Although Truman cooperated closely with the Republican leaders on foreign policy, he fought them bitterly on domestic issues. He failed to prevent tax cuts or the removal of price controls. The power of the labor unions was significantly curtailed by the Taft-Hartley Act, which was enacted by overriding Truman’s veto.[72]

As he readied for the approaching 1948 election, Truman made clear his identity as a Democrat in the New Deal tradition, advocating national health insurance,[73] the repeal of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, and an aggressive civil rights program. Taken together, it all constituted a broad legislative agenda that came to be called the “Fair Deal”.

5 jorod August 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Truman gave us Israel. You could say things haven’t been the same since….

6 Vernunft August 22, 2009 at 8:45 pm

“You might as well give him credit for the weather.”

Oh dear…

7 AADL August 22, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Truman imposed price controls on meat and tried to steal a couple steel plants and a railroad. And the fact that he dropped the Big One–twice–makes him the epitome of pure evil.
Okay, he wasn’t as bad as Wilson, Lincoln, FDR, and maybe LBJ and TR.

Jimmy the Peanut Farmer got the ball rolling on a lot of (partial!) deregulatory measures, but you wouldn’t say he was anything higher than a heart lusting, cardigan wearing bottom feeder.

8 David C August 23, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Why don’t you guys reread the post?

“Almost no one at the time gave him credit for overseeing a period of rapid recovery that was much broader and more impressive than anything that happened under Roosevelt’s tenure — and this at a time when most economists predicted a deep postwar recession.” – John Nye

John Nye was saying Truman did a great job improving the economy. I’m simply stating that that is not true. Can we make it mandatory that people who haven’t read the topic post shouldn’t be allowed to post a comment? Oh, and Jay, I believe you mean status quo bias, the tendency for things to continue on their current course after a change of Presidency, which makes judging presidents based on present economic performance more difficult, but does not make the process invalid or impossible. Omission bias is slightly different.

9 spencer August 24, 2009 at 8:27 am

To look at the WW II era real gdp it is useful to use a concept of “civilian real GDP” by subtracting military spending from real gdp. This shows that during the war the resources available for civilian consumption, of standard of living fell sharply. So the sharp growth in real GDP during the war can be a very misleading stat.

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