The end of World War II furnishes still more evidence that political images leave a wider trace in historical memory than actual policies. Harry Truman left office in 1953 a very unpopular man. Almost no one at the time gave him credit for overseeing a period of rapid recovery that was much broader and more impressive than anything that happened under Roosevelt’s tenure—and this at a time when most economists predicted a deep postwar recession. He did this while shrinking the government and dismantling wartime regulations at a rate Ronald Reagan could only have dreamed of. He smoothly pulled us back from a regime of wage and price controls that could have easily been allowed to linger (indeed, it would have if those sharing Rexford Tugwell’s views had gotten their way). Thanks to Truman we were once again moving in the direction of a competitive, open-access market economy. Had there been a lingering recession and a continuation of older, harmful regulations into the 1946–48 period, Truman, not his predecessor, would have been blamed. Yet Truman’s stellar reputation today owes nothing to his economic achievements, which most of those who today praise his foreign policy acumen know nothing about.
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