Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The word of the day... puerile.

This one is more common than the word I mentioned yesterday, but still not one used in common daily conversation. (At least not in the common daily conversations I have.)
Puerile came up in my s....l....o.....w reading of  Frank Freidel's one-volume biography of Franklin Roosevelt, A Rendezvous with Destiny.

Freidel describes the controversy which attended Roosevelt's attempts to raise farm prices through the doubtful ploy of buying gold above the prevailing price on the market, hoping that doing so would decrease the value of the dollar and so, make it easier for for other countries to purchase American goods, including crops.

Many "financiers, economists, and politicians" expressed disapproval of the scheme. Former FDR ally--by then, bitter enemy--Al Smith labeled the "commodity dollar," as it was being touted, the "baloney dollar." Roosevelt fired the under secretary of the Treasury, Dean Acheson, later to be Harry Truman's Secretary of State, because of Acheson's disagreement with FDR on the plan.

Also, John Maynard Keynes, godfather of deficit spending as a means of stimulating economic activity in depressed conditions, whose name is often associated with Roosevelt's approach to the Great Depression, weighed in opposing the Roosevelt gold purchases. Keynes, Freidel says, "in an open letter to Roosevelt that appeared in the New York Times at the end of the year, scoffed at the scheme as puerile...[and] irreverently remarked that the fluctuations seemed more like 'a gold standard on booze than the ideal managed currency of my dreams.'"

Puerile, boozey, or not, FDR continued the gold buying into January of 1934. "The results were disappointing, bearing out neither Roosevelt's expectations nor those of his critics," Freidel says. And isn't is that always the way things go? Nobody has a lock on wisdom.  Rarely is anybody utterly vindicated for having vision; everyone gets left with a little bragging rights.

Most agricultural commodities slipped as a result of Roosevelt's gold buyouts. The lone exception was wheat.

As Freidel tells it, Roosevelt's action was a short-term economic non-starter. But it may have bought Roosevelt and the country some time, preventing a second economic collapse.

So, was Roosevelt's gold-buying puerile or was it mature economic thinking? That's a matter of debate. But the answer seems to be somewhere between Roosevelt's sunny assertions of its efficacy and his opponents' belief that it was destructive at worst and irrelevant at best.

But the meaning of puerile is none of the above.

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