I’ve had several emails regarding unemployment rates during the Roosevelt administration. These readers were confused by some Keynesian sites asserting that the unemployment figures were inflated. One reader wrote that “the unemployment figures must have been greatly exaggerated because they excluded people on relief. If these people had been included then unemployment in 1938 would have been 12.5 percent and not be 19 percent.” I immediately recognised the figures as coming from Michael R. Darby’s 1975 paper1.
There is a sound reason why it is Keynesian votaries that tend to use Darby’s figures while the vast majority of economists and historians stick with the conventional figures. Putting the unemployed on relief and giving them a pay check is called working for the dole. It is an attempt to hide unemployment, not eliminate it. The old statisticians and economists understood that and were scrupulously honest in their estimates. It was called relief because it was understood that this ‘employment’ was a government-funded substitute for real employment. Better to be paid for doing something rather than be paid for doing nothing. Therefore, if these had been real jobs they would not, by definition, have been called relief. Taken to its logical conclusion all a government would have to do to eliminate unemployment is assign the jobless to various activities, no matter how pointless, and classify their dole payments as wages. Continue reading Australia’s recovery from the Great Depression compared with Roosevelt’s sorry unemployment record