Yoni Appelbaum: Can Rhetoric Create a Recession? It Has BeforeRoundup: Historians' Take
Yoni Appelbaum is a social and cultural historian of the United States. He is a doctoral candidate at Brandeis University, and a lecturer in history at Babson College. He previously contributed to TheAtlantic.com under the name Cynic.
For the first time in a century, monetary policy stands at the center of our political debate. A number of leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are vying to persuade voters of the depth of their hostility to the Federal Reserve. Last month, Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that further action from the Fed might be "treasonous," and that if it were pursued, "we would treat [Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke] pretty ugly down in Texas." Rick Santorum called for a "sound-money Federal Reserve," Newt Gingrich labeled the Fed "dangerous" and Michele Bachmann accused it of wielding "almost unlimited power over the economy." And then there's the Fed's most passionate critic, Ron Paul, who accuses it of being "a full time counterfeiting operation to sustain monopolistic financial cartels."
The idea that it is not merely mistaken, but positively immoral, for the federal government to manipulate the money supply is as old as the republic. It has found its greatest popularity during moments of economic crisis, as voters search for a single identifiable cause, and cure, to the tangled problems they face. That poses an almost-irresistible temptation to politicians hoping to win office by tapping popular frustrations. But they are playing with fire. The last time a major political party fused moral fervor and monetary policy in this fashion, it plunged a stalling economy back into recession and sentenced itself to two decades of political irrelevance.
THE LESSONS OF 1896
The Depression of 1893 paralleled, in many ways, our current plight. It started as a financial panic, and soon deepened into the worst economic crisis the nation had ever faced. Confidence plummeted, banks failed, businesses went bankrupt, and unemployment soared.
The economic crisis struck amidst a simmering political insurgency. The People's Party, better known as the Populists, had enjoyed considerable success in the election of 1892, particularly in agricultural regions that were already suffering economically. To build on its triumphs, the party searched for a defining issue that could speak to the economic malaise. Out of the mass of proposals emerged a single, simple idea that almost all factions could back: bimetallism....
comments powered by Disqus
- Artist Corrects Inaccuracies At The George W. Bush Library With Augmented Reality
- “Unprecedented” discovery of mysterious structures created by Neanderthals
- This Man Spent 25 Years Documenting Every Day of Hitler's Life
- Anti-Gay, Pro-Creationism Birther Won’t Be Deciding What Textbooks Your Kids Read
- What About Us, Nagasaki Asks, as Obama’s Hiroshima Trip Nears
- David Lowenthal, author of "The Past Is a Foreign Country,” says it’s folly to scratch the names of slaveholders off buildings
- Jean Edward Smith, biographer of FDR and Ike, has a new biography coming out … of George W. Bush
- Flora Fraser, biographer of George and Martha Washington, wins $50,000 George Washington Prize
- Michael Cohen explains why he calls his book on 1968 “American Malestrom"
- Fredrik Logevall on Obama's Legacy