Thursday, December 11, 2008

FDR vs. Kashrut: How Four Nice Jewish Boys Defeated FDR And His NRA

It looks like FDR the shine has come off of FDR's halo as people have been taking a closer look at the policies that he instituted--policies that heretofore have been credited with the recovery from The Great Depression.

Four years ago, an article came out that revealed: FDR's policies prolonged Depression by 7 years, UCLA economists calculate:
In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, [Lee E.] Ohanian and [Harold L.] Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.
It was Roosevelt's approach to competition in the marketplace that brought 4 Jewish brothers into conflict with the NRA. Steve Horwitz, in The Story of the Schechter Brothers, writes about
Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, which has a chapter on the 4 Schechter brothers who ran 2 kosher butcher shops in Brooklyn
Enter FDR and the NRA. The National Recovery Administration was part of the early New Deal and was Roosevelt's attempt to cartelize American industry to prevent it from suffering the consequences of too much competition. The thinking was that too much competition was keeping prices too low, which was undermining incomes and purchasing power, and dragging the economy down. Matched with Hoover's and FDR's attempts to keep wages up, the NRA's similar attempt with prices made for a highly misguided combination that contributed to the length and depth of the Great Depresssion. As part of its legislation, the NRA had all kinds of detailed codes for individual industries, describing to the letter how firms must do their business. The Schechters fell under the "Code of Fair Competition for the Live Poultry Industry of the Metropolitan Area in and About the City of New York" (and you thought Atlas Shrugged was fiction….). Among the things the code prohibited was "straight killing" which meant that customers could buy a whole or half coop of chickens, but did not have the right to make any selection of particular birds (such individual selection was "straight killing").

This last rule was in direct conflict with Kashrut laws, which also served as an informal health code in the Jewish community...Removing unhealthy animals from the stock was one of the core principles of keeping Kosher, and the rabbinical inspectors were fanatic about doing this.
The conflict was inevitable, as the Schechter brothers were targeted by the NRA, which repeatedly inspected their stores and forced them to deny their customers the right to reject individual chickens--thus having those customers running the risk of buying and eating unkosher birds. As a result, the number of customers who bought from the Schechters went down.
Eventually, the lower courts found them guilty of 60 different violations and they all served a little bit of jail time. But more important, the Schecters' lawyer continued to appeal and the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Roosevelt Administration saw it as the perfect test case of the constitutionality of the NRA, and perhaps the whole New Deal. Coverage of the case, Shlaes shows, was highly tinged with the standard anti-Semitism of the time, especially because the Schechters were right out of Jewish central casting, being immigrants with their Eastern Eurpoean cadences and traditional Jewish dress. It was the Jewish rubes of Brooklyn against the high powered WASP lawyers of the northeast corridor.
The Supreme Court found in favor of the Schechter brothers and by a unanimous decsion invalidated the NRA codes.

That is the end of the story, and as Horwitz himself points out, the Schechter brothers and what they accomplished has been virtually forgotten in both Jewish and American history.

There just remains one but continuing question--which Horwitz asks:
But with the Schechters, we have a case where the Administration targeted Jewish merchants/middlemen for the dual sins of being good capitalists and observant Jews, both of which didn't fit the NRA's plans. And the way in which the prosecution was conducted and was covered by the newspapers put a whole bunch of anti-Semitic stereotypes into play. Why didn't this sour more Jews on FDR? And why, when you take this case and FDR's too little, too late approach to the Holocaust, is FDR still viewed so positively by so many Jews? I can offer a few answers to that question, many of them obvious I think, but it remains interesting that his sins were, and are, overlooked by many Jews.
As a final note on the story, Horwitz ends his article with an update:
According to a commenter at the Volokh Conspiracy: "A member of the Schechter family has told me that shortly after the ruling Schechter Poultry went bankrupt. The family claims that the Jews of New York found out that the Schechters has run afoul of their beloved President Roosevelt and therefore stopped giving their business to the company." I have no idea if this is true, but if so, it only adds to the strange relationship between Jewish Americans and FDR.
A strange relationship that continues with the Democratic Party in general--and most recently with Barack Obama in particular.

(Note: you can read the full opinion of A. L. A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935))

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

Technorati Tag: and and and .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why did the Jews in America let their families in Europe die? Why did no one make noise except Bergson and Rabbi Weissmandle? No one stood as one people to demand Roosevelt to act. If we were a united people no one could destroy us. We were scared then, we are scared today to fight the terrorists in Israel, with all the wapons we have, we all believe in placating and the world is despising us when we are weak. Jews think that being liberal is being nice Jew, they will love us, admire us for our restraint, we want to be like them, universal everything. We discard whatever makes us unique in favor to please others, be like them. Who us chosen people? It's a dirty word--apartheid. Without belief in our G-d we are blind.