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Comments: Week of November 10, 2008


1. The New Deal tends to be romanticized in the mainstream imagination as FDR’s great lifting of the country out of the Depression. But is massive public spending really what did the job? This was one of the key issues debated by readers of John Heilemann’s story about what a Barack Obama administration will do to fix the U.S. economy (The Next New Deal,” November 3). “Thanks for this detailed and insightful article,” wrote one reader. “The big puzzle: why Obama and his circle would imagine that FDR’s first hundred days provides a good model. All evidence points to the conclusion that the National Industrial Recovery Act and many of FDR’s other bold initiatives failed to get us out of the Depression, and may even have made a bad situation worse. Another puzzle: why those quoted in the article fail to acknowledge that infrastructure ‘investments’ and ‘green jobs’ may amount to giveaways to special interests, and generate little or no public benefit?” This view was quickly opposed: “Infrastructure investments and green jobs ... are not mere giveaways but a key to improving quality of life in metropolitan areas (infrastructure and presumably traffic improvements), creating thousands of jobs as state transportation agencies resume or start long-planned projects that merely await funding, and prepare America to be more competitive in an economy more focused on long-term sustainability, financially and ecologically.” Such hopefulness inspired yet another dire historical lesson: “If [Obama] is elected, we’re in for a very rough ride as he plans exactly the same policies that Hoover did when Hoover was confronted with his economic slowdown. Policies like tax-rate increases and restrictive trade initiatives thrust us into a depression before, and they will do it again.” But hope was not absent from the debate, as an Obama supporter tried to rally everybody behind the presumptive next president: “We, the American people, cannot allow President Obama to fail.”

2. The Depression also figured prominently in the discussion surrounding Jerry Saltz’s column about how art, if certainly not the art market, prospers in hard times (Frieze After the Freeze,” November 3). Some commenters on accused Saltz of glorifying poverty; a historian specializing in Depression-era art wrote, “De Kooning stated wisely, ‘The trouble with being poor is that it takes up so much of your time.’ ” This point was echoed by others, including one who wrote, “Of course art should be a life first. But why can’t it also be a career? Certainly that’s true of being a curator. Should artists have to starve to flourish as artists?” But a commenter who worked on the floor of the Frieze fair in London, which precipitated the column, agreed with Saltz: “It was astounding how much more rewarding it was to talk to an intelligent collector about a potential sale, one that may never materialize, than to fight off speculators who had battled for the brand names, without interest in quality.”

3. Our roundup of slow-selling real-estate developments (Buying From the Glut,” by S. Jhoanna Robledo, October 27) was a hit with, which saw it as cause for Schadenfreude. “For those tickled by New York City real-estate-market doom and gloom,” wrote the Curbsters, “there is no better reading than S. Jho Ro’s ... handy guide to the new condo developments in the various stages of death and dying.” Representatives of the Marino Organization, which developed the building at 181 East 119th Street, didn’t enjoy it as much, however, and asked us to correct the record. A spokesperson says that the StreetEasy data we cite (indicating four sales out of 90 units, through August) didn’t reflect several recent deals; ten units are now sold.

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