AN overseas holiday used to be thought of as a reward for a year’s hard work. Now Brussels has declared that tourism is a human right and pensioners, youths and those too poor to afford it should have their travel subsidised by the taxpayer.
Under the scheme, British pensioners could be given cut-price trips to Spain, while Greek teenagers could be taken around disused mills in Manchester to experience the cultural diversity of Europe.
The idea for the subsidised tours is the brainchild of Antonio Tajani, the European Union commissioner for enterprise and industry, who was appointed by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.
The scheme, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds a year, is intended to promote a sense of pride in European culture, bridge the north-south divide in the continent and prop up resorts in their off-season.
Tajani, who unveiled his plan last week at a ministerial conference in Madrid, believes the days when holidays were a luxury have gone. “Travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life,” he said.
Tajani, who used to be transport commissioner, said he had been able to “affirm the rights of passengers” in his previous office and the next step was to ensure people’s “right to be tourists”.
The European Union has experience of subsidised holidays. In February the European parliament paid contributions of up to 52% towards an eight-day skiing trip in the Italian Alps for 80 children of Eurocrats.
Tajani’s programme will be piloted until 2013 and then put into full operation. It will be open to pensioners and anyone over 65, young people between 18 and 25, families facing “difficult social, financial or personal” circumstances and disabled people. The disabled and the elderly can be accompanied by one person.
In the initial phase, northern Europeans will be encouraged to visit southern Europe and vice versa. Details of how participants are chosen have not yet been finalised, but it is expected the EU will subsidise about 30% of the cost.
Officials have envisaged sending south Europeans to Manchester and Liverpool on a tour of “archeological and industrial sites” such as closed factories and power plants.
Tajani’s spokesman said: “Why should someone from the Mediterranean not be able to travel to Edinburgh in summer for a breath of cool, fresh air; why should someone from Edinburgh not be able to travel to Greece in winter?”
The idea is based on a project in Spain in which holidays in the winter off-season are subsidised by the government for European residents aged 55 and over. Spain calculated that for every €1 it spent in subsidies, €1.6 was gained for its resorts.
It's a myth. FDR did not get us out of the Great Depression—not during the 1930s, and only in a limited sense during World War II.
Let's start with the New Deal. Its various alphabet-soup agencies—the WPA, AAA, NRA and even the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority)—failed to create sustainable jobs. In May 1939, U.S. unemployment still exceeded 20%. European countries, according to a League of Nations survey, averaged only about 12% in 1938. The New Deal, by forcing taxes up and discouraging entrepreneurs from investing, probably did more harm than good.
What about World War II? We need to understand that the near-full employment during the conflict was temporary. Ten million to 12 million soldiers overseas and another 10 million to 15 million people making tanks, bullets and war materiel do not a lasting recovery make. The country essentially traded temporary jobs for a skyrocketing national debt. Many of those jobs had little or no value after the war.
No one knew this more than FDR himself. His key advisers were frantic at the possibility of the Great Depression's return when the war ended and the soldiers came home. The president believed a New Deal revival was the answer—and on Oct. 28, 1944, about six months before his death, he spelled out his vision for a postwar America. It included government-subsidized housing, federal involvement in health care, more TVA projects, and the "right to a useful and remunerative job" provided by the federal government if necessary.
Roosevelt died before the war ended and before he could implement his New Deal revival. His successor, Harry Truman, in a 16,000 word message on Sept. 6, 1945, urged Congress to enact FDR's ideas as the best way to achieve full employment after the war.
Congress—both chambers with Democratic majorities—responded by just saying "no." No to the whole New Deal revival: no federal program for health care, no full-employment act, only limited federal housing, and no increase in minimum wage or Social Security benefits.
Instead, Congress reduced taxes. Income tax rates were cut across the board. FDR's top marginal rate, 94% on all income over $200,000, was cut to 86.45%. The lowest rate was cut to 19% from 23%, and with a change in the amount of income exempt from taxation an estimated 12 million Americans were eliminated from the tax rolls entirely.
Corporate tax rates were trimmed and FDR's "excess profits" tax was repealed, which meant that top marginal corporate tax rates effectively went to 38% from 90% after 1945.
Georgia Sen. Walter George, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, defended the Revenue Act of 1945 with arguments that today we would call "supply-side economics." If the tax bill "has the effect which it is hoped it will have," George said, "it will so stimulate the expansion of business as to bring in a greater total revenue."
He was prophetic. By the late 1940s, a revived economy was generating more annual federal revenue than the U.S. had received during the war years, when tax rates were higher. Price controls from the war were also eliminated by the end of 1946. The U.S. began running budget surpluses.
Congress substituted the tonic of freedom for FDR's New Deal revival and the American economy recovered well. Unemployment, which had been in double digits throughout the 1930s, was only 3.9% in 1946 and, except for a couple of short recessions, remained in that range for the next decade.
The Great Depression was over, no thanks to FDR. Yet the myth of his New Deal lives on. With the current effort by President Obama to emulate some of FDR's programs to get us out of the recent deep recession, this myth should be laid to rest.
Mr. Folsom, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, is the author of "New Deal or Raw Deal?" (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Mrs. Folsom is director of Hillsdale College's annual Free Market Forum.