Monday, April 19, 2010

Revisionist History: Leave the CCC Out of It

Would you tell these guys the CCC was a failure?

It is refreshing to see that the authors of the latest revisionist editorial to come out against the New Deal have wisely chosen to leave out any mention of the most popular and arguably the most successful New Deal program, the CCC.

Burton and Anita Folsom, who both hail from Hillsdale College, wrote earlier this month (ironically, on the anniversary of FDR’s death) that the New Deal did nothing to end the Great Depression. The editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal and you can read it Here.

Referring to the many “alphabet agencies” created during the New Deal, Folsom and Folsom state that “…the WPA, AAA, NRA and even the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) failed to create sustainable jobs.” (I think someone working for the TVA today would beg to differ but that’s an argument they’ll have to make.) For my part I see it as a sign of progress that nowhere in the Folsom’s editorial is there any reference made to the CCC, the ECW or the Civilian Conservation Corps.

I’ve stated many times over that I am not an economist and I’m really not much of an historian and I don’t pretend to be. I’ve made a study of the CCC but when it comes to the larger impacts of the New Deal, I’ll defer to anyone with a reasonable argument. However when a revisionist historian props up their argument by making spurious claims about the CCC, they’d better have their facts straight. For this reason, I’m inclined to applaud the Folsom’s, at least for their having had the good sense to leave the CCC out of it.

I’m reminded of a revisionist rant that came out about five years ago from a gentleman by the name of Richard Ebeling – also associated with Hillsdale College at the time. Mr. Ebeling penned a piece entitled “When the Supreme Court Stopped Economic Fascism in America,” in which he made the following, stunning claim about the Civilian Conservation Corps:

“Much of the urban youth of America were rounded up and sent off to national forests for regimentation and mock military-style drilling as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

You can read the entire editorial here: Richard Ebeling's Article.

I won’t bother to expound on the many ways in which Mr. Ebeling’s claim is outlandish and stupid – he’s a professor of economics who should probably stick to economics – but I will offer some commentary on why I think the Folsom’s were right to leave the CCC out of their argument.

The CCC was not established to create sustainable jobs. If anything the CCC was geared toward removing single, teenaged men from the workforce in order to open up jobs for older men who were often unemployed heads of households. Furthermore, the CCC was created with the goal of improving the health and well being of its enrollees while providing them a chance to help their families through their own hard work (real self-esteem building, not the phony stuff sociologists spout about today). The money an enrollee sent home every month was plowed back into the economy in the form of rent payments and weekly grocery purchases. The CCC wasn’t a cure all and nobody with a lick of sense will attempt to argue that it was. By the same token, nobody with a lick of sense would reasonably claim the New Deal was a failure because of anything the CCC did, except perhaps with respect to its failure to racially integrate the camps.

I’m pleased that we can still discuss the New Deal on its merits and I’m pleased that supporters and detractors can all have their voices and opinions heard. I’m especially pleased that in the last five years or so, we’ve at least learned where the salient arguments are to be made and that the success or failure of a single New Deal program isn’t sufficient evidence for either side and that perhaps the CCC in its own right has risen above the discussion about whether or not the New Deal brought us out of the Great Depression.

To see an earlier editorial regarding revisionist works by Amity Shlaes (The Forgotten Man) and James Powell (FDR’s Folly) see my post entitled The Folly of Revisionist History.

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Buffalo Crossing Camp, Eastern Arizona

Buffalo Crossing Camp, Eastern Arizona