Need a reminder of our era's political deficit? Here is a glimpse (dating to 1936)

While we are lamenting our leaders’ lack of political will, nous and courage, it is both helpful and a little sad to compare and contrast the politicians in charge during this Crisis of ours with the generation of political leaders whose spirit was steeled during the previous Crisis, that of 1929. With no further ado, I quote from a speech that President Roosevelt delivered when running for re-election in 1936. Read and weep while contemplating the infinitesimal probability that Mr Obama might say anything remotely like it:

“For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering [Nb. referring to the Great War period

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”


  • Yanis – an excellent choice to compare with the weakness of the current political leadership not only in the US, but Europe as well. Ultimately, Roosevelt was a pragmatist – but one of those rare pragmatists that did not make peace with the prevailing regime of ideas. Rather, having settled on the best course to achieve his goals, he pursued it ruthlessly no matter how it upset the status quo.In this way, he rewrote the rules as he went along.

    And following the Great Depression and the war, he did not look backwards – to re-establish something approximating the older order. Instead he proposed a deepening of the economic and social revolution he started. You might be interested in this excerpt from a speech in 1944 where he outlined a new vision – an Economic Bill of Rights:

    The depressing question for all of us is: where are our Roosevelts?

  • The political incubators of the last 20 years have nothing else produced than poultries of politics, socially transmuted technocrats who have nothing in common with every day life, and their constituencies, ego-monsters of timidity, hunters of personal connections, subservient weak brothers of their money-addicted counterparts of the markets. All those distorted cowards, and their egoistic frenzy for withholding power, prestigious seats, or just skroutz-like wealth, make patently evident political acts of the past to seem like a metaphysic divine intervention,… Roosevelt the prophet…

  • Exhilarating and spirit-lifting speeches and actions.

    Are the knights of old permanently dead?


    I like to think ,feel rather ,that the era of moral stasis is near its end.

  • As you quoted from the US history, it may be useful to look at the reality in this decade as well. It may be hard to digest, but 25 corporations in the US paid their CEO’s more than they paid in taxes for the entire year!

    They also paid 150 million for lobbyism, and 20 of them paid more for lobbyism than they paid in taxes.

    In 2009 the CEO’s of the largest corporations earned 263 times as much as the average industrial worker, in 2010 it was already 325 times. The average income for the fortune 500 CEO’s in 2010 was 10,762 million USD, 28% more than in 2009.

    General Electric booked a global Profit of 5.1 billion and reclaimed taxes of 3,3 billion at the same time. Jeff Immelt earned 15.2 million.


    My opinion is that the CEO’s multiple of average industrial worker income should not exceed more than 30-35 times, above that, I personally consider it unethical.

  • Why do you think our leaders are so blindfolded during this crisis? Don’t they understand what is happening or are they so tightly bound to the market forces? In other words are they incompetent or players in the game?

  • I find comparisons with 1929 frightening…but while we’re at it may I point out something that some of us might be forgetting: the New Deal became the exemplary combination of political will and strategic economic planning we think of, only in conjunction with the war effort of the US (see e.g. in Yanis et al.’s Modern Political Economics). Quite a sad prospect for us today, if we are willing to adopt a cyclic view of history (even one in which tragedies and farces interchangeably repeat themselves). Let us not be fatalists. Of course none of us can predict a new major war that will cleanse capitalism, although most of us probably fear one, nowadays more than we did four years ago.

    Nevertheless, it might be instructive to start paying some attention to the unfolding geopolitics of our times. It might very well be that our great fierce Northern Atlantic bubble will simply deflate in an embarrassingly long release of internal pressure, rather than burst in a bang. And it might be that to read signs of the future we should be looking east of the meridian running from Athens to Helsinki, west of Tokyo, and, possibly, even south of the Equator. It is ironic that the three major feudal empires that got dismantled with the rise of European capitalism, are becoming relevant precisely when the latter can no longer hide its wrinkles. After spending a century caught up in their own adventures, they are now starting to flex their muscles, testing how far they can tap for influence and resources into what used to be the play yard of old established powers. Meanwhile, looking south now, Latin America is on a path of reclaiming its natural resources and industrializing.

    As a child growing up in Greece, it was evident to my parents that I had to learn English and either German or French if I wanted to amount to anything in life. I sometimes wonder if my kids will have to learn English and some combination of Russian, Turkish, Chinese, and Spanish to show equal promise.

    Back to our corner of the world, let’s not be too harsh on our politicians. Their liveliness and resourcefulness might just be a reflection of our societies. We, as societies, might still have something promising in store for the future. But it certainly won’t be heard in the corridors of power while we’re comfortably waiting in our living rooms for history to unfold.

    • I’m sorry about the long post…only realized it’s size after I submitted.

  • And to hear it in glorious audio, check out the Miller Center (a great site for all sorts of audio — LBJ tapes, Nixon tapes, etc). Here’s the site of FDR’s speech referenced above — a great speech in its entirety I would say, but the part quoted above is amazing. I’ve never heard a crowd explode like they do when FDR says “and I welcome their hatred.” Here’s the url. Skip ahead on the audio to -23:10 to get to the section referenced.

  • Let me try to offer some food for thoughts with my current post.

    I listen to Yanis complaining and all the bloggers agreeing for the total lack of political efficiency in the globe. Statistically speaking this is not very likely. We have come to be more that 7B people breathing on this planet with a huge, in comparison, number of us having access to knowledge and, some would think, to opportunities as well.

    One would expect to have a much higher count of competent leaders nowadays. (There will always be incompetent ones as well, of course, if you know what I mean…!!!) Is it possible that we are looking at it from the wrong angle? I would assume that there must be an alternative way to see things.

    The system has become more powerful than any individual politician, decision center or political party. It has become so powerful and huge, that there are few, if any, degrees of freedom left for maneuvering and all alternatives are excluded a priory. We tend to think within the context of the past, and try to bias the economy reactively, while the context has changed and the system is collapsing.

    The situation though, is not a new ‘Black Swan’. It is the historically cyclically repeated, evolvement of the condition where some prevail, against those that have been supporting them until then. It needs a broader perspective and radical redesigning. No fine-tuning politician or macro-economist may do any good, any more.

  • @Michael, re: “our” Roosevelts.
    I hope this isn’t too fatuous a comment but it is worth noting that Barack Obama was elected on the back of vague promises of hope and change, standing as a blank canvass to which people were invited to project their own hopes. Of course there wasn’t much change and no 180 turn like Roosevelt apparently brought about. In Ireland, both the governing parties here campaigned on promises for jobs, growth, prosperity etc. and of course they have not taken the course of action required to achieve the generic goals they were alluding to.

    @Yanis, have you any ideas as to why it is this way? Why it is that even when people are elected in places like Ireland,USA or Greece – I think I recall Papandreou boasting how ordinary people shouldn’t be crucified and forced to pay for the crisis while electioneering – on platforms of change that they refuse to bring about the required change? Could it be a result of what has been called “managed democracy” –

  • So, would you believe that social change is in order? My expectancy, hope rather, is a change of Paradigm, social, economic and political. The problem appears to be that even such a change will not reflect the morality of our species 🙂

    • Reflect todays’ morality?

      Hope not.

      Social change always occurs. The problem was always the continuation of the proper actions by all and not only by the “Hero Leader”.
      He/She/They will pass ,others will come and the same cycle again experience we will.

      We need STEADY upwards momentum to break the cycle.
      Small everyday revolutions to better our lives with respect to other beings.

      Is there not a life manual we can all use????