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You’ve undoubtedly heard scores of Conservative idiots make the following claim:

“World War II pulled the U.S. out of The Great Depression, not FDR or his ‘New Deal’.”

In fact, last Friday (2/6) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) repeated the ridiculous claim on the floor of the Senate (see video here. Advance to the 5 minute mark):

McConnell: “The Big Spending programs of The New Deal did not work. In 1940, unemployment was still 15%… What got us out of the doldrums that we were in during the Depression was the beginning of World War II.”

Okay, let’s stomp this annoying myth into the mud:
First part: “In 1940, unemployment was still 15%”. Notice his choice of date… 1940. Unemployment was actually LOWER in 1937 (14.3%), DOWN FROM 24.9% when FDR entered office in 1933. Unemployment INCREASED 0.7% between 1937 and 1940. Compare that to the Republican record under Bush: When Bush entered office in 2001, unemployment was 4.2%. Last week, the unemployment rate hit 7.6% after losing a record 600,000 jobs last month (Bush’s last month in office). THIS is the guy dispensing advice on job creation?
Second part: “What got us out of The Great Depression was World War II”. No. In fact, WWII was responsible for DELAYING our recovery, not causing it.
Under FDR and The New Deal, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) grew at an average 9.45% every year from 1933 to 1937… the slowest being 1937 as Europe grew concerned about Hitler possibly starting a war.
GDP 1933 to 1940

In 1938, as Hitler took control of Austria and threatened war with England if they denied him Czechoslovakia, America’s GDP actually FELL 3.4% (for comparison, last month when we lost 600,000 jobs, it was because GDP fell by 3.8%. Still think The War was “aiding” our economy in 1939?
GDP DID shoot up in 1940 and 1941… the two years before we entered the war (the Japanese didn’t attack Pearl Harbor and drag us into The War until December of ’41) as the United States sold weaponry to our (still financially sound) allies and we imported less from them, keeping more of our money here at home (however, GDP in 1940 was STILL less than in was in 1929, and there was no war in 1929 to account for it).
GDP grew greatly during The War, but Federal Spending made up an ENORMOUS amount of it (as much as 43.6% of our GDP was Federal Spending in ’43 & ’44). That would seem to suggest an extraordinary disconnect in Senator McConnell’s argument that Federal spending wasn’t responsible for economic growth but “The War” somehow was. It was only the Federal governments massive spending here at home on war production that was responsible for that growth. Someone please explain to me what the Good Senator from Kentucky is talking about when he says “WWII pulled us out of the Depression”. How? Job creation? Those jobs weren’t created by “Private Industry”. They were created by the government to power the Mighty American War Machine. Was it “exports”? Europe was going bankrupt after 5 long years of war (remember, the Germans occupied France and had Blitzed London to rubble. We certainly weren’t doing business with Germany and Japan, so where were all these dollars coming from that McConnell thinks “pulled us out of The Depression”? Australia?
And if “war” is so good for the economy, explain to me why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t head off the mess we find ourselves in now? Like Bush, Hoover trusted the “Free Market” to save the economy. Federal spending increased only slightly between 1929 and 1933 as he kept the Federal Government out of the business of propping up business. And in fact, FDR actually spent LESS than Hoover his first year in office before it became obvious that that was the wrong way to go. And that roaring economy during The War that McConnell is so fond of quoting… who was President at the time? Say it with me: FDR… a man that learned the power of Federal Spending to create new industries.
No, the “Depression”, for all intents and purposes, was essentially “over” by 1939. Consider, that was also the year that two of the most expensive movies ever made (up to that point) hit the box-office: “Gone With the Wind” ($3.7million to make. Gross: $198.7million in the U.S. alone) and “The Wizard of Oz” (cost: $2.7million. Gross: $11.36million). Compare that to the highest grossing film of 1936: “The Great Zigfield”, which grossed a paltry $3million dollars. MGM spent as much to MAKE those two movies than most movies even made just three years before. You don’t spend that kind of money to make a movie unless you’re reasonably sure of making it back.
I think we can comfortably put this insipid Republican meme to bed. World War II wasn’t responsible for our recovery from The Depression, it delayed it.