Obama is much more dangerous to economic freedom than FDR.
In 1932, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president as the nation was heading into a severe recession. The stock market had crashed in 1929, the world's economy was slowing down, and all economic indicators in the U.S. showed signs of trouble.
The new president's response was to restructure the economy with the New Deal -- an expansion of the role of government once unimaginable in America. We now know that FDR's policies likely prolonged the Great Depression because the economy never fully recovered in the 1930s, and actually got worse in the latter half of the decade. And we know that FDR got away with it (winning election four times) by blaming his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, for crashing the economy in the first place.
Today, the U.S. is in better shape than in 1932. But it faces similar circumstances. The stock market has been in a tail spin, credit markets have locked up, and a surging Democratic presidential candidate is running on expanding the role of government, laying the blame for the economic turmoil on the current occupant of the White House and his party's economic policies.
Barack Obama is one of the most liberal members of the Senate. His reaction to the financial crisis is to blame deregulation. He even leverages fear of deregulation onto other issues. For example, Sen. John McCain wants to allow consumers to buy health insurance across state lines. Mr. Obama likens this to the financial deregulation that he alleges got us into the current mess.
But a President Obama would also enjoy large Democratic majorities in Congress. His party might even win a 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, giving him more power than any president has had in decades to push a liberal agenda. And given the opportunity, Mr. Obama will likely radically increase government interference in the economy.
Until now, this election has been fought on the margins, over marginal issues. But it is important to understand how much a presidential candidate wants to move the needle on taxes, trade and other issues. Usually there isn't a chance for wholesale change. Now, however, it appears that this election will make more than a marginal difference. It might fundamentally change America.
Unlike FDR, Mr. Obama will not have to create the mechanisms government uses to interfere with the economy before imposing his policies. FDR had to get the Supreme Court to overturn a century's worth of precedents limiting the power of government before he could use the Constitution's commerce clause, among other things, to increase government control of the economy. Mr. Obama will have no such problem.
FDR also had to create agencies to implement regulations. Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Labor Relations Board (both created in the 1930s) as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and others created later are in place. Increasing their power will be easier than creating them from scratch.
Even before the current crisis, there was a great demand for increased government regulation to limit global warming. That gives the next president a ready-made box in which to place more regulation, and a legion of supports eager for it.
But if the coming wave of new regulation from an Obama administration is harmful to the economy, Mr. Obama will take a page from FDR's playbook. He'll blame Republicans for having caused the market crash in the first place, and so escape blame for the consequences of his policies. It worked for FDR and, so far in this campaign, blaming Republicans and George W. Bush has worked for Mr. Obama.
Democrats draw their political power from trial lawyers, unions, government bureaucrats, environmentalists, and, perhaps, my liberal colleagues in academia. All of these voting blocs seem to favor a larger, more intrusive government. If things proceed as they now appear likely to, we can expect major changes in policies that benefit these groups.
If those of us who favor free markets for the freedom and prosperity they bring are right, the political system may soon put our economy on track for a catastrophe.
Get Ready for the New New Deal - WSJ.com