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Eric Rauchway: Megan McArdle Says Something Wrong on the Internet

One of the distressing things about the global weblogging community is the way that smart, quirky, and thought-provoking conservatives have lost their smarts, their quirkiness, and their thought-provokingness as they have advanced careerwise. Ross Douthat is, of course, the biggest example as he thinks that his job at the New York Times is not to say what he thinks but to say what the New York Times's junior right-wing columnist would say. There were hopes that as Megan McArdle moved on from her role as the Atlantic's dedicated regurgitator of sophisticated reasons to believe in Republican talking points that she would recover what had made Jane Galt worth reading.

Eric Rauchway says: not so:

Megan McArdle calls someone an "economic idiot.": Megan McArdle is advising “liberals” that they “shouldn’t defend FDR’s attacks on the Court.”…

McArdle executes a pivot classic to the anti-New Dealer playbook: facing Andrew Sullivan writing that “the Court tried to sabotage the New Deal under Roosevelt,” McArdle responds, “it’s bad economics. The NRA wasn’t going to save America, and we should be glad that the Court put it to rest.” Did you notice that? Sullivan was talking about “the New Deal,” and McArdle immediately starts talking about “the NRA.” You see this a lot, anti-New Dealers reducing the New Deal to the NRA. That’s because if you’re an anti-New Dealer, you have a big problem: the New Deal was, and remains, popular. Its most important elements have endured. The New Deal included the SEC, FDIC, TVA, Social Security, TVA, innumerable public works projects and the minimum wage, as well as the right to unionize…. So of course McArdle and other anti-New Dealers don’t want to talk about the New Deal, they just want to talk about NRA….

But that’s all standard, skewed stuff. McArdle goes even more importantly wrong in saying:

The centerpiece of the conflict between FDR and the Court was a program called the National Industrial Recovery Act, which was challenged in a case called Shechter [sic] Poultry v. United States.

Not so. The Schechter case did strike down the NRA, but it wasn’t the centerpiece of the conflict between FDR and the Court. As William Leuchtenburg notes, FDR was not stupid, and knew he couldn’t go to war against the Court on behalf of NRA, because “its detractors were more numerous” than its supporters. Instead, after an initial outburst about Schechter, Roosevelt kept his peace and let the Court go too far. When it invalidated the railway pensions act, it aroused the ire of a million pensioners. When it invalidated AAA, it aroused the ire of even more farmers. And when, in the Tipaldo case, the Court struck down a state minimum wage law, even some Republicans got concerned. As Hamilton Fish said, “I say to my Republican friends if you lend or express any sympathy for this decision … it will mean a million votes for the Democratic Party.” In fact, in response, the Republican Party’s 1936 platform disputed Tipaldo, saying that the state power to set a minimum wage was “within the Constitution as it now stands.”

The course of the Court’s action in 1935-1936, culminating in the radicalism of Tipaldo, suggests we should not, or not only, think of the struggle between the Roosevelt administration and the Supreme Court as a case of a befuddled, conservative Court trying to grapple with a very New Deal and a suddenly expansionary federal government. It was also a case of an activist Court determined to roll back even state powers to intervene on behalf of labor. As Herbert Hoover wrote of Tipaldo, “something should be done to give back to the states the powers they thought they already had.”

But McArdle isn’t interested in this sort of thing. She’s happier calling FDR “an economic idiot.”…. McArdle decries the record of the New Deal in promoting economic improvement. To which I can only ask those of you who are serious readers to look at the below graph…

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