Panels to revisit economics behind the Great Depression


Leading scholars on the Great Depression will hash out opposing theories on its causes, the New Deal and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt this weekend as part of a conference hosted by the George Washington Forum.

The conference, which begins at 7:30 tonight in Ohio University’s Baker Center Theatre, will feature seven different lectures and debates that revisit various subtopics of the Great Depression.

Amity Shlaes, the keynote speaker for the conference, has worked on the Council on Foreign Relations and was recently named director of the 4% Growth Project at the George W. Bush Institute. She also writes a column for Bloomberg News. Her lecture will be titled “Obama Plays Monopoly: The Great Depression Revisited.”

The George Washington Forum was created three years ago by a $20,000 challenge grant from the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History and a matching 1804 grant.

Its current financers include the Thomas W. Smith, the Apgar and the Charles Koch foundations. In 2010, the Thomas W. Smith Foundation committed $300,000 to the organization.

The conference is expected to cost $25,000 but is supported entirely by money from outside the university, said Robert Ingram, an associate professor in the history department and director of the George Washington Forum. He added that it is unique among forums because it includes intellectuals arguing contrary theories.

“What distinguishes this conference is it is as close as we could get it to a 50-50 ideological mix,” he said. “Each of the panels are set up with a built-in tension, so they will have different people arguing completely different cases within the same panel.”

The third panel, which will begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday, will include Gauti Eggertsson and Lee Ohanian. Eggertsson will argue that FDR’s policy choices caused a change in expectations that drove the United States’ recovery after the Great Depression.

“I like (Ohanian’s) work, I mean it comes to a different conclusion than mine, but I think it’s very interesting,” Eggertsson said.

“We’ve tried to put on each panel people who we know disagree with each other. They each get 30 minutes to talk, and then there will be another half an hour of open, free-ranging discussion,” Ingram said.

Paul Milazzo, a professor of history at OU, said the topic arose partly because of the country’s current economic situation. He thought that, if pundits and politicians were using the Great Depression and the New Deal as an example in current discussions, the topic should be revisited and examined.

“The idea of the conference was … to get the best people, who articulate both sides of the question, sort of defending and criticizing the New Deal’s response to the Great Depression, … and get them in the same room and have them debate the issues,” Milazzo said.

Ingram added that the conference would provide some intellectual diversity at OU, arguing that there’s not very much of it.

“The idea behind this was to provide something that’s voluntary for students and faculty that enhances civic education, that provides some intellectual diversity at this campus. … You’ll actually be able to hear intelligent, articulate critics of Keynesianism, and you’ll be able to debate them,” he said.

“Name me some place that that’s happened on this campus. You can’t.”

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