**A Guest Post by TAM Shifra**
During my high school and undergraduate years, in the ‘60’s, it was widely believed that FDR was a national hero for ending the Great Depression. Recently, however, conservative historians and economists, including Amity Shlaes, in her book “The Forgotten Man,” have begun to argue that his policies not only did not end the Great Depression, but they actually prolonged it by several years. Furthermore, a closer look at some of his policies offers a shocking glimpse of how an overreaching, power-hungry POTUS with little regard for the Constitution could transform the U.S. into a quasi-fascist state. (No, I’m still talking about FDR; I didn’t get to Obama yet). Fortunately, one of his most disastrous policies was stopped, thanks to four kosher butchers in Brooklyn, the Schechter brothers.
In 1932, FDR, hoping to secure the Democrat nomination, gave his first major speech, a coast-to-coast radio address, in which he pitted “the little fellow” who is “at the bottom of the economic pyramid” against the “large banks and corporations.” Although many were shocked by Roosevelt’s use of class warfare during the Depression, it was very effective: blaming President Hoover for the Depression and for the twenty million unemployed Americans, and demonizing him as a heartless monster who cared only for the rich, Roosevelt won the election by seven million votes. (What? You thought David Axelrod invented these tactics?) Roosevelt’s advisers, some of whom were openly admiring of Stalin, were thrilled: Finally, they had someone in the WH who would champion their Progressive ideas. Roosevelt did not disappoint them.
FDR and his cohorts believed that the U.S. economy suffered from too much competition, which made prices too low. But if the government could enforce higher prices, incomes would then increase, people would spend more money, and the Depression would end. (Did they not realize that, with unemployment over 20%, higher prices would mean that less people could afford to buy things? But the Progressive mind is a fragile one, and apparently cannot grasp simple economic concepts.) And so, several months after FDR’s inauguration, The National Industrial Recovery Act was passed by the Democrat Congress, and FDR established the National Recovery Administration to implement the NIRA.
The NRA established strict codes for individual industries, and once the codes were established, FDR would sign each one into law. (If this sounds like Mussolini-era fascism, you would be correct. The NRA had, in fact, given FDR dictatorial powers, and the government would have complete control over every phase of U.S. industry.) Twenty-two million workers fell under the NRA, and the codes determined what a tailor could or could not sew, and exactly what ingredients could be used in the manufacture of macaroni. (A New Jersey tailor was actually jailed for violating the code that mandated charging 40 cents to press a suit; he had charged only 35 cents.) In NYC, among the many codes was the “Code of Fair Competition for the Live Poultry Industry of the Metropolitan Area in and About the City of New York.”
Enter the Schechter brothers. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, with their strange garb and broken English, they appeared straight out of a casting call for Fiddler on the Roof. The Schechters owned a poultry slaughterhouse in Brooklyn. (They were aptly named: “shecht” in Yiddish means “to slaughter,” and that’s what they were, ritual slaughterers/ butchers.) Among the many things prohibited by the live poultry code was the ability of a customer to select and examine a specific chicken; according to the NRA code, the butcher would have to stick his hand in the coop, and the first chicken out of the coop would be sold to the customer. The “reasoning” of the NRA code was this: if earlier customers selected the best chickens, then later customers would have to select from inferior-quality chicken, and would perhaps ask for a discount in price. (Remember: the NRA geniuses had to keep prices up!).
The Schechter brothers were targeted by the NRA shock troops, and they were indicted on 60 violations of the poultry code, including “competing too hard,” and keeping prices “too low.” They were also accused of selling a sick chicken. It was the latter accusation that most infuriated the Schechters; the kosher laws are complex, and involve more than just which animals are allowed to be eaten.
The slaughter of animals has to be done as humanely as possible, and diseased animals are forbidden for consumption. For the Schechters, the government prosecution was an attack on their business reputation and religious integrity. They were found guilty, they all served a few months of jail time, and were fined $7,425 (an enormous sum, given that each brother had a weekly salary of $35). But the Schechters and their lawyer appealed their case, and lost the first appeal, but they courageously continued to appeal, and eventually, the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case, which came to be known as The Sick Chicken Case.
The Administration saw this as the perfect test case; the “uneducated” immigrants and their Brooklyn Law School-trained Orthodox Jewish lawyer would be no match for the Ivy League elite government lawyers, and once the SC upheld the case, the constitutionality of the NRA would no longer be in question. However, the Supreme Court Justices were dismayed at FDR’s attack on free enterprise, and they were looking for a test case to stop the New Deal. The Schechter case, with the government’s heavy-handed attempt to micro-manage a decent and law-abiding business was a perfect example.
During the Supreme Court hearings, the Justices ridiculed the NRA’s persecution of the Schechters and their customers, and their irrational attempt to control the price of chickens. In a unanimous decision, the SC ruled in favor of the Schechters, and held that the NRA was an unconstitutional attempt to regulate intrastate commerce. The NRA closed it doors, sending thousands of bureaucrats home, and one of FDR’s most beloved New Deal programs ended. The headline of the London Express read: “America Stunned! Roosevelt’s Work Killed in 20 Minutes.” Let us hope and pray that the horror of ObamaCare befalls a similar fate.