European policymakers learn nothing from 1930s depression years

Prof Brad Delong is surprised how Europe has forgotten lessons from its dreary past:

This, sadly, is the story of the 1930s as well. As the American commentator Matthew Yglesias points out, Europe’s major center-left parties at that time recognized that what was being done was not working, but nonetheless failed to offer an alternative. “It was left to other parties with less worthy overall agendas – Hitler, for example – to step in and say that if the rules of the game led to prolonged spells of mass unemployment, then the rules of the game had to be changed.”

Today, Yglesias adds, Europe’s center-left politicians similarly “don’t have a strategy for changing the rules, and they don’t have the guts to tear up the rulebook.” As a result, austerity reigns, and dissent is left to populists like France’s Marine Le Pen or Italy’s Beppe Grillo – whose economic proposals seem even less likely to be effective.

One would have thought we were capable of learning from the past, and that the Great Depression was important enough in European history that policymakers there would not be repeating its mistakes. And yet, at the moment, that is precisely what seems to be happening.

Never underestimate people’s (more importantly policymaker’s) ignorance of history..

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