David Brooks has an interesting piece in today’s NYT (I must admit, he has written more than a few fine columns this year). He notes that the Obama administration assumed office drawing on parallels to the Great Depression and FDR. It has since abandoned this historical analog and turned, instead, to the Progressive Era. The remainder of the column argues quite persuasively that there are few useful parallels to be found here.
One hundred years ago, we had libertarian economics but conservative values. Today we have oligarchic economics and libertarian moral values — a bad combination.
In sum, in the progressive era, the country was young and vibrant. The job was to impose economic order. Today, the country is middle-aged but self-indulgent. Bad habits have accumulated. Interest groups have emerged to protect the status quo. The job is to restore old disciplines, strip away decaying structures and reform the welfare state. The country needs a productive midlife crisis.