Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The First Roosevelt

Bryan Caplan notes that

Time has put Teddy Roosevelt on the cover of its 5th Annual Special Issue, and the coverage stretches the limits of sycophancy. It reminds me of my high school history textbook, which praised any President who backed new regulations or started a war.

Thomas Sowell weighs in:

Theodore Roosevelt was indeed a landmark figure in the development of American politics and government, but in a very different sense from the way he is portrayed in Time magazine. In fact, the way that Theodore Roosevelt has been celebrated by many in the media and among the intelligentsia tells us more about them than about the first President Roosevelt. . . .

According to Time magazine, TR believed that "government had the right to moderate the excesses of free enterprise." Just what were these excesses? According to Time, "poverty, child labor, dreadful factory conditions."

All these things were attributed to the growth of industrial capitalism -- without the slightest evidence that any of them was better before the growth of industrial capitalism. Nothing is easier than to imagine some ideal past or future society or to imagine that the net result of government intervention is bound to be a plus.

Sowell goes on to put the boot into that belief.

My own views about TR's influence on America can be found in two posts. Here I point to the beginnings of the regulatory-welfare state during TR's presidency (1901-9):

What happened around 1906? First, the regulatory state began to encroach on American industry with the passage of the Food and Drug Act and the vindictive application of the Sherman Antitrust Act, beginning with Standard Oil (the Microsoft of its day).

And here -- in my antidote to standard history texts for schoolchildren -- I have more to say about the First Roosevelt; for example:

Roosevelt was an "activist" President. Roosevelt used what he called the "bully pulpit" of the presidency to gain popular support for programs that exceeded the limits set in the Constitution. Roosevelt was especially willing to use the power of government to regulate business and to break up companies that had become successful by offering products that consumers wanted. Roosevelt was typical of politicians who inherited a lot of money and didn't understand how successful businesses provided jobs and useful products for less-wealthy Americans.

It ran in the family.