In the comments, George Brett (I know! George Brett reads this blog! Awesome!) said:
don’t some economists attribute the recovery from the great depression almost entirely to WWII rather than the spending projects he implemented leading up to the war?
A really good point, and yes, as far as I know, some economists see WWII as the engine that
brought the American economy back. But I don’t really know my history well enough to cite any specific economists who think that the New Deal was helpful, but I’m pretty sure that many do. At the very least, the infrastructure projects of the New Deal (dams, roads, public art, etc) were a good investment that helped the economy become more productive, regardless of how it recovered.
And economic opinion aside, WWII contributed to (or primarily drove) the recovery from the Great Depression because it was a massive spending project from the government – the only entity that could pour that much money into an ailing economy. I actually wrote about this before, and quoted TNR’s Jon Chait:
The point of stimulus spending, by contrast, is simply to spend money–on something useful if possible, wasteful if necessary…World War II was an effective stimulus that, economically speaking, consisted of 100 percent waste. If war hadn’t broken out, we could have enjoyed the same economic benefit by building all those tanks and planes and dumping them into the ocean.