Saturday, August 14, 2010

Was Woodrow Wilson a Good President?

This post makes a pretty convincing claim he wasn't.

I have a really hard time with the idea that the Federal Reserve was and is a bad idea, but when you make this much more nuanced point:

"In the long run the Fed may have been a good thing, but there can be no doubt that 1913 was premature, we didn’t know anywhere near enough about monetary policy to warrant a central bank meddling in the gold standard."

That's a pretty strong argument to make since one of the reasons we had the Great Depression was because the Fed made some really bad decisions, but we do know a lot more now.

"Wilson had arguably the most destructive foreign policy in American history. When there is a delicate balance of power in Europe you don’t want to meddle unless you plan to stay there permanently. Yes, I know Wilson did intend the US to hang around, but he should have known we were an isolationist country before he brought us into WWI. All he did was assure that the strongest country in Europe lost. When we pulled out (as was inevitable), a rematch was almost preordained. WWII was the fruit of Wilson’s foreign policy. (As were more than 116,000 dead American soldiers.)"

This argument falls right in line with my moderate pacifists leanings. There's no question that without WWI WWII would not have happened. And WWI was a senseless war. If we would have stayed out of it, Germany would have won? Then no WWII? Certainly, no Hitler. That's such a radical departure of how history did go, I really have a hard time wrapping my mind around it.

One quick diversion. If you analyze the wars in the last century, how could have America behaved differently to ensure a more peaceful prosperous 100 years:

Key decision 1: we stay out of WWI:
1) Germany wins and becomes the dominant power in Europe., who knows what happens then.
2) WWII - does not happen.
3) Vietnam and Korea are no longer divided, neither is most of Europe - no Korean or Vietnam wars.
4) The US, Soviet Union and Germany become the 3 world powers?

Key Decision 2: (We had to enter WWII to stop Hitler so I'm skipping that war), We turn back North Korea and instead of launching a counter-offensive deep into North Korea (which brings China into the war), we heavily enforce the border until North Korea excepts a truce.

This basically occurs within 3 months of North Korea's original invasion. That war would have literally ended in 3 months and would have saved countless lives.

Key Decision 3: We should have never gotten involved in Vietnam. We completely misunderstood the dynamics there. The South Vietnamese government was weak and did not have the support of its people. Organically, the North Vietnamese were bound to unify the country. The war tore our country apart in the process and launched our politics into a 30 year cultural war.

I'm skipping the Iraq War in 1990 because I think largely that was handled in precisely the right way (you can site specific mistakes).

Key Decision 4: We should have never launched a preemptive invasion into Iraq. The war has cost $3 trillion dolllars and thousands of American lives. We have lost considerable world power (both hard and soft) because of it. And it served as a painful distraction to the larger war on terror.

So, how should we keep from repeating these mistakes in the future? Use the lessons of the Book of Mormon as our guide. War in the book was only justified in times of self defense. If we would have applied that basic principal, we would have avoided a lot of pain and political fallout over the past 100 years and would have a much more prosperous and peaceful world as a result.

That was a massive diversion. But returning to the original point. Maybe Woodrow Wilson was one of the worst presidents in history. What are your thoughts?


Sean Elcock said...

I've been meaning to comment on this one since you first posted it.

I think President Wilson was one of the worst Presidents we've ever had. Your points about WW1 and WW2 are good ones. And although he only deserves part of the credit/blame, he was President in 1913 when 3 dubious changes were made that had long-lasting effects: The Federal Reserve, the 16th Amendment (Income Tax), and the 17th Amendment (Direct election of Senators). 1913 may have been the worst domestic year ever for America, in my opinion. And that's saying a lot!

tempe turley said...

Thanks Sean. I'm curious about your comments on the income tax. Setting aside the issue of government size, what do you think is a better way to organize the tax code to fund the government?

The sales tax seems way too regressive - forcing lower income people to pay at a much higher percentage of their income than rich people.

I don't have a good opinion here, the income tax has a ton of problems as well, I'm just not sure what alternatives work better.

Sean Elcock said...

Scott, I haven't studied tax options much at all. I was more referring to the combination of the 3 huge changes in 1913 and how they allowed the progressive agenda to advance.

Part of my view is colored by the impressive growth in government tax receipts and spending since 1913. My sense is that the income tax accomodates that growth, but maybe other tax systems would be just as accomodating.

While a sales tax would be more regressive, I think the current tax code is too progressive. Especially in our current economic environment, I would be vary wary of more heavily taxing the high end of the wealth base. With globalization and the ease of information and business flow, other countries could be very enticing to wealthy folks who are tiring of the uncertain US business environment and see what's on the horizon.

I'm no fan of the elites, but I think what we need is a more level playing field, not more redistribution. (We also need a renaissance in the hearts and minds of the people - a culture change - but that's another topic). Currently, wealthy folks seem to be tepid on investing and providing new business and jobs, largely due to the uncertain business environment. Banks are doing the same thing - hoarding cash. We need to create an environment that's more business friendly.

tempe turley said...

Sean, I'm not sure I agree with your last paragraph. I think, by far, the reason banks aren't lending and business aren't spending is because the markets are so uncertain. I don't see this as government's fault.

Consumers are still trying desperately to balance their budget, pay down debts, and build a savings. Banks too - I think many are still teetering on insolvency. All as a result of massive and irresponsible leveraging over the past ten years.

One huge problem with out economy has been its vast inequality. Not sure how to solve it totally, but I think the statistics are that 2% of Americans control 20% of our wealth - which is really devastating and an inefficient use of our resources.

And I don't think the tax code is as progressive as you think. I would have to research this, but in many ways the wealthy are able to pay less in taxes than others because of clever ways of making their money not look like income.

But even in a straight forward analysis, if you combine the sales taxes on the local level with the income tax on the federal level, I think the percentages are relatively equal across the income level.

But I would need to research this statement a bit more.