The New Deal
In view of the failures of domestic policy in
later years, the achievements of the New Deal have acquired the
reputation of a Revolution. The "New Deal" was a term handed to a
new President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by his speech writer
Sam Rosenman, but the activities it came to encompass
changed a significant part of the social structure, and led to
different attitudes about government functions.
Literally, until the New Deal, a protester or a sympathizer with the
victims of all the abuses and indignities of American history could
find nowhere political sympathy and action more substantial than a
hullabaloo, a demonstration, or a small embattled fringe group.
With the New Deal, the whole intelligentsia could feel at home, and
found a thousand places to enjoy each other, to communicate, to
work, to express a changing interpretation of the past and a fully
detailed composition of the future. So did a large mass of the people.
And the two elements connected, powerfully, satisfyingly, and
uniquely for American history.
The country became for a time 40% socialist in fact; that was the
proportion of the people - forty out of a hundred million - who
came to depend directly upon government spending for their jobs or
subsistence. (I count not only recipients of government checks and
goods, but families, relations, friends, and small business directly
supported by these beneficiaries.) A number of new
activities were undertaken by the federal government;
a great many old functions were enhanced. Every
business fell under one or more new regulatory laws.
Ideas of planning came into government.
The right to a job became public policy of the federal government, the
wish of Harry Hopkins, an appointed aide of the President,
one of the dominating figures of the federal government, by training a
social worker, not a politician or lawyer. His reasoning became
proverbial: unemployment weakened all of society; the right to work
must be recognized; government was the natural enforcer of the right;
and, in the end, high wages and guaranteed full employment would
smoothen the dreadful frequent depression cycles.
Franklin Roosevelt held to Hopkins as his adviser on many policies and
as direct administrator of relief activities. Among his other
appointments of note were Secretary of State Cordell Hull, of Treasury
Henry Morgenthau, of Interior Harold Ickes, of agriculture Henry
Wallace, then a " brain trust" with Raymond Moley (who later
defected), Berle in Justice, Rexford Tugwell, David Lilienthal. Too,
there were Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, Mary McLeod
Bethune of the Office of Minority Affairs of the National Youth
Administration, Ruth Bryan Ouder, Molly Dewson
in women's education and as primary screener for patronage
appointments (numbering now thousands in view of the
increased activities of the government).
Eleanor Roosevelt, the President's wife and cousin, was into many
functions, was a principal encourager and promoter of social causes,
a creature of immense strength and dedication. Unlike most First
Ladies, she did not hang around the White House offices or try to
share the President's power; she traveled the country round on her
own and amplified the voices of the weakly represented - women,
Blacks, the poor and disadvantaged, the workers, artists - directing
them to the ears of Franklin D. and his Cabinet members. She
deflected lightning from her husband,
she managed well a difficult family,
she continued her work until long after Roosevelt's demise.
Thus, for the first time in U.S. history there came about a crew of
non-elective valid top-level civilian heroes. The President, indeed,
was unique among Presidents for the high quality of his work gang.
He himself was a master of politics and could continue to be so
while pursuing a miscellany of social objectives. He had been a rash
and carefree Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a Vice-Presidential
candidate, a Governor of New York State. Not heretofore noted for
his legislative programs or liberal positions, he was nevertheless
equipped by a patrician and cosmopolitan background for insouciant
venturesomeness. Poliomyelitis had crippled his legs, but left him
undaunted in spirit; he got around with a cane, a
wheelchair, and a helping arm.
Upon taking office in March 1933, he directed a flood of orders and
legislation. It was to be called the "100 days" for all that was done.
The banks were closed by an unconstitutional executive order for a
brief "bank holiday" to halt the run of depositors who were stripping
banks everywhere of their cash and assets. They reopened and a
strange return of depositors' confidence let them stay open.
The U.S. abandoned the gold standard; the dollar inflated
somewhat; the idea was to encourage consumer and business
spending; it did so to a degree. Then ensued a set of laws
inconceivable and shocking to the American business and
professional class, the wealthy, and academia.
A National Industry Recovery Administration (NIRA, later NRA) was
created, that organized all industrial firms by product lines into
committees to whom were delegated powers to in effect rule and
regulate their especial group with regards to the setting of prices and
limitation of "unfair" competitive practices. Labor unions were to be
guaranteed recognition and the right to bargain with industry
employers. Sweatshops and child labor were banned.
The set-up resembled the "corporate state" of Italian Fascism,
inaugurated a few years earlier, and was in tune, too, with a Papal
encyclical of an even earlier date, counseling cooperation of
employers and workers rather than strife and class struggle. The
head of General Electric Company, Gerard Swope, came up with an
idea resembling the NIRA several years beforehand.
The NRA was nullified by the Supreme Court in 1935 after two years
of experiment, as involving an unconstitutional delegation of legislative
power to private groups. The NRA had not achieved
miracles; many protested its stifling of competition and control by
large companies. Still the decision set up an enduring hostility
between the President and the majority of Congress and the
electorate on the one side, and the Supreme Court and
conservative opinion on the other.
It needs be stressed that many businessmen and of course labor
union leaders liked the large powers tendered them under the NRA.
They probably were not foreseeing the threat down the road
of the executive branch of government taking direct command of
the total apparatus, thus bringing about in effect fascism.
On the other hand, such corporatism, extending large powers
to a representative body of an industry
to regulate its constituent companies, large and small,
could still come in time, because unquestionably,
the corporate constituency has been developing for a century
a real preponderance over the territorial constituency
(which is, in the last analysis, a mask for agricultural,
rural, and neighborhood interests, all of which
have been weakening against the
occupational and financial interests of people).
A number of programs were initiated that did pass muster and
became part of the American credo. To mention several here:
systems of insuring bank deposits of small savers,
of extending loans to home purchasers,
of lending and granting funds to hard-pressed local governments,
of increasing aid to land grant agricultural and mechanical colleges,
of giving loans and crop support guarantees to farmers, and
of a civilian conservation corps for poor young men to
constitute work battalions. This CCC planted millions of trees on
eroded land, built thousands of miles of roads, and consummated many
another public works project.
A host of small but welcome job opportunities was made
available to college students, with most of the
jobs related to their studies.
Public works projects were inaugurated over the whole country.
The presence of the Federal Government was especially notable
in works in the South and West, but of all of the projects,
the grandest because of the social changes it wrought over the
Middle Southern States, was the Tennessee Valley Authority,
a semi-independent government corporation,
(See the TVA regional map below.)
whose dynamic head was David Lilienthal.
With his staff, he had continuously to struggle with local leaders
and their Washington representatives who welcomed
the idea of a total development of the hugely depressed region
but could not stand the idea of hiring Black personnel
for the program on an equal basis with the Whites.
In the Social Security Act of 1935, with important changes later,
Congress at last faced the fact that most older Americans were
destined for destitution, whatever the blather of the apostles of
savings. Jobs were too insecure; the whole capitalist system,
whatever its great advantage in getting lots of things done fast, put
the individual at risk during one's working years and
more so in one's old age.
Illogically but typically, housewives and various independent
occupations were kept out, although social provision was made for
survivors. The decision was made, probably wrongly, as the next
three political generations would show (each more sharply), to tax
and save a small percentage of a person's wages in a giant
independent fund for ultimate pay-out,
rather than to provide in each annual budget,
from ordinary tax revenues, what senior citizens would require.
As a result, from actuarial miscalculations and withdrawals for
other purposes, and by tying pay-out benefits to inflationary rises
in the cost of living, the social security fund shrank
below its expected obligations, so that, as the century ended, it was
dismayingly apparent that the fund must either reduce payments or
be supplemented out of current revenues, swelling greatly the
already huge deficit habitually accruing or threatening
to expand anyhow every year.
It was projected that the U.S. in 2023
would have the same proportion of aged as a whole
that Florida had a bio-generation earlier,
when the new millennium began.
Rising tensions between youth (ever fewer)
and senior citizens were beginning over who
should pay how much, when, to whose account.
In the arts and education of all kinds, the New Deal rendered the
nation an enormous service. Tens of thousands of artists, musicians,
historians, and teachers of ordinary subjects were given employment.
In every locality of America artists opened teaching
studios; public buildings acquired murals and paintings that to this
day are the best public art to be found in America.
Local public libraries received help in personnel and construction.
Tens of thousands of free musical concerts were performed
by government symphony orchestras, concert bands and choruses.
Dance troupes went everywhere.
Plays opened in many a darkened theater.
Millions of Americans experienced classical music, theater, dance,
and creative plastic arts for the first time, and they were the first
generation of ordinary Americans ever to do so. There was no end
to the adult education classes in English, history, mechanics, and
other subjects. Artists and performers worked well and
productively on a subsistence income and would have gone on so
doing indefinitely had not a combination of intolerant critics and the
pretext of an all-out national emergency halted the programs.
For the first time in American history significant funds were
available to study on a large scale what the country was like - its
history, its people, its infrastructure, its physical deterioration. One
could read in hard reports of the year 1934, for instance, how less
than half of the 300 million acres of Southern soil existed with little
or no erosion, but that 43% had suffered total sheet erosion, 31%
had lost from one-fourth to three-fourths of its topsoil, that 12% had
lost practically all of its topsoil, that 42% of the area had been
affected by gullying.
Thanks to the theory of laissez-faire and strict construction of
selected clauses of the Constitutions of the national and State
governments dealing with private property rights, owing really to
the ineptitude and slovenliness of most of the politicians that the
political system cast up, and to the collectivity of ignoramuses who
elected them, practically nothing had ever been attempted, much less
accomplished, in the conservation of American soil, the ground that
soldiers kissed when returning from abroad.
In foreign affairs, we have already noted a conspicuous reversal of
pan-American policy toward the "Good Neighbor." Economic
involvements with the world at large were mutually destructive; tariff
wars were common. Too, U.S. policies towards fascism in Italy,
Germany, Japan and Spain were so weak and uncritical as to
encourage international ruffianism as conduct appropriate to the
twentieth century. Perhaps Japan was being consistently and
effectively annoyed, but to no end; the Japanese government was only
antagonized and its military emboldened to grasp internal political
power and venture upon imperialist aggression overseas.
For twenty years, from 1920 to 1940,
the United States presented an un-militaristic
pose to the world, encouraging Japanese militarists
to think in terms of a Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The Army Engineer Corps and Coast Artillery were the
prime arms. The horse pawed its turf
well beyond the dawn of the tank.
Military leaders scoffed at the idea that
an unsinkable dreadnaught battleship could be sunk
by a small airplane: the American army pilot,
Brigadier General "Billy" Mitchell, demonstrated so
in 1921-3. He had to resign.
Rear Admiral Richard Byrd was given his rank by Congress:
Navy chiefs regarded his unofficial explorations of the
Arctic and Antarctic as amateur bravado.
Both Mitchell and Byrd died disconsolate old men -
but hardly alone in this regard.
In 1937 a recession occurred, a recession within a depression. Once
more, alarmingly, unemployment rose, stock markets dropped, farm
prices slumped. After an internal struggle, Marriner Eccles' concept of
deficit spending, later called Keynesian economics, triumphed.
There could, of course, be no other way now. The population would
not stomach the "tough-guy" policy of giving business all the breaks
until help trickled down to the people. (A memorial generation later,
however, the U.S. and its flunky international lending institutions,
supported by the fat banking governments, imposed the "get-tough"
theory on the poorest nations that sought economic relief. There was
to be no "Spend your way to Prosperity" for the
debt-ridden Third World.)
The Works Progress Administration, the vehicle for employing
8.5 million otherwise destitute workers, spent $11 billion
on 1.5 million projects before being halted in 1943.
The national debt rose as a result of New Deal and other spending
from $22.5 billions in 1933 to $40.5 billions in 1939. Republicans and
conservative plutocrats, following the lead of most economists and
business leaders, increasingly pointed with horror at the deficits and
predicted economic ruin and perpetual depression. Taxes on the rich
were raised in 1935.
New legislation was passed, important Food and Drug laws, a
Civil Aviation Act, an Administrative Reorganization Act, an Agricultural
Administration Act, and a Fair Labor Standards Act. These were
enduring systems; they governed most important areas for the long
run; they did not cure the recession or the underlying depression. No
measure seemed to correct these conditions except continuous
spending and heavier taxation (or deficits).
So some emergency measures continued, but then so much new
spending occurred in connection with military rearmament and war
programs that Depression unemployment disappeared, and with it all
of the good things that the Depression had brought, including a
slowdown in the destruction of the forests and exhaustion of the
mines, and a lessening of the depredations of the automobile.
Now the war could resume the ruination of the environment and the
depletion of natural resources, and it would put everybody to work,
over-work, on socially useless and anti-humane production.
Opposition to the New Deal, targeted particularly upon Roosevelt in
all of his manifestations, was vigorous, beginning as soon as the
Republican and business leaders could pick themselves up off the floor
after the March 1933 inaugural. His popularity but increased over the
years, and in the national elections of 1936, a great turnout gave
Roosevelt a second victory, this time against a lackluster Republican
candidate, Governor Alf Landon of Kansas, 27.7 million to 16.7
million votes. In the Electoral College this came to 523 out of 531
votes, the nine Landon votes coming from
Maine and Vermont.
The election was marked by a wholesale switch of Afro-American
voters to the Democratic Party, following two political generations
of loyalty to the Republican Party (about the same duration it took
for the New Deal vote afterwards to dissolve into Republicanism).
Much of Roosevelt's strength came from organized labor. Labor
unions took a new lease on life with the permit to freely organize and
bargain with employers. The 1930's became a furious battle scene in
which, for the first time, unions won as often as they lost. Union labor,
only 7% of the working population in 1930, increased greatly
by 1940, and then doubled during World War II. By the mid-fifties 25%
of the workers of the country were unionized; from this peak,
the proportion declined to about 17% in the 1990's.
Historically, everybody who was anybody advised the
workers forcibly not to look to unions to improve their lot. To prove
the point, the general elite - political, economic, judicial, religious -
made unions first illegal as restraints of trade. Then they fired workers
who agitated for an association. Then they locked out any group of
workers who joined together. Then they imported cheaper but just as
efficient workers from, depending upon the decade of the century,
Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, China, Italy, Poland, Bohemia,
Mexico, Puerto Rico, all the world. Then the old immigration workers,
resentful, refused to admit the new workers and rioted. Then came the
Pinkerton security forces. Then the police, the National Guard, the
Then, inside two or three gaps in the political record,
in a couple of wartime labor shortages, in a brief halt
of immigration or migration, the unions would be able to
organize rapidly, strike, arbitrate, win advantages,
including recognition of their right to
bargain with employers on behalf of the workers.
This was all that they could achieve.
Several events highlighted the victorious campaigns of trade
unionism in the decade of Depression: the great sit-down strike of
the United Automobile Workers' Union, led by the Reuther
brothers, against the Ford Motor Company ; the split-off from the
American Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.) of the unions to be then
called the Congress of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O), which was
led by the dynamic coal miners' chief, John L. Lewis, fittingly a
Welshman; the use of sit-in strikes occupying the workplace and
preventing scabs from taking over; and the
Labor Standards Act of 1938.
Corruption has been part of American business and commerce
throughout time. None of the some twenty thousand
occupations defined by the Department of Labor
ever lacked its own repertoire of criminal practices,
internally or externally directed, along with additional
admitted ethical offenses. (The average individual,
surveys have revealed, has carried a couple of
legally defined offenses at any given age.)
Unions and workers have had a hand in corruption,
it needs be repeated. American docks were totally
corrupted for generations; hardly a cargo was landed and
forwarded without thefts and payoffs.
Ordinary workers were ordinarily corruptible.
Their bosses and union agents set the pace.
Contrasting dramas of labor strife were played on the
docks of the West Coast and Hawaii, and the East Coast.
In the West, and centered at San Francisco,
longshoremen were organized under the leadership of
Harry Bridges, Australian-born, continually
badgered by owners, prosecutors, and police for
plying the communist line. The union fought
one bitter strike after another, finally ending up with
fully satisfactory agreements. The demeaning shape-up,
which gave petty bosses the power to choose
who would be hired from the crowd of men showing up
on the docks for work, was replaced by union hiring halls
that offered equality in job assignment.
In the East, centered in New York City, dockworkers were
organized, too, but under the worst kind of labor boss,
John Ryan, who misappropriated union funds and
extorted pay-offs from the shipping companies,
united with savage gangsters to enforce his rule, and could
show little gain for his union's workers. He turned
every criticism aside with boasts that he kept the
communists from controlling the waterfront. Eastern
longshoremen had to wait until well after World War II for
elementary protection and minimal benefits, when finally the
New York State legislature acted to end the shape-up.
Only several laws and favorable court decisions
sufficed to set up a new constitutional situation and
guarantee unions a lifeline through good and bad times.
Remarkably, the vast unionization of the United
States took place alongside the great government
programs of work relief, so that the unions did not have to crush
the poor in order to lift their own status.
The poor could cheer on organized labor.
Artists and students helped, by propaganda and agitation.
The New Dealers in government encouraged the labor movement.
A vigorous tiny Communist Party and its front,
the International Workers' Order, worked
prodigiously to organize labor and excite dissent and
rebellion everywhere. Often troublesome, often
embarrassing, frequently subversive of the leadership of
labor groups, the communists nevertheless overall
stimulated the arts and the self-consciousness of many
workers during the decade.
Too, they helped greatly to conceal the enormous
crimes of Josef Stalin and the Soviet regime.
They applauded the outrageous treaty of cooperation
signed by Hitler and Stalin in 1939
that sealed the doom of Poland and began World War II.
And had it not been for the Nazi invasion of the
Soviet Union, they would have pursued an isolationist tack
against America and the Allies, doing their best to
sabotage the war effort. When the USSR
broke down and its secret files were exposed,
Harry Bridges was shown to have been a high
officer of the Soviet apparat. So one had not only
to tote up his earlier conspiring against the USA,
but also the damage against U.S. preparations
for war against the Axis in the year of the anti-Allied
Soviet-Nazi pact. And to this sum
had to be added the damage to American
Cold War policies inflicted by his gang (granted that
American policies on several important occasions
hurt the United States and in reality helped the
Soviet Union). Had the Cold War ended in
war between the Soviet Union and the United States,
Bridges would have been in a crucial position for sabotage,
dominating from his perch the labor movement of the
West Coast and the Pacific Ocean islands.
Roosevelt and the Congressional Democratic majority often
had to fight hard for their victories, and reciprocal labor union
support was important in a great many local elections. Usually the
unions worked hand-in-glove with Democratic machines.
Employers and Republicans had to fight now, not only Democrats,
but also workers' organizations.
The American worker, contrary to worldwide belief,
was not privileged beyond his counterparts of the Western World,
with the possible upcoming exception of a few years
after World War II when that World was in ruins or outmoded.
For the great majority of American workers,
hours were longer, pensions were few and late in coming,
hiring and firing were more ruthless,
housing was inferior, neighborhoods were degraded and uglier,
health care was largely absent, their children's education was more
primitive, they had fewer defenders in factory, union, and
government. The worker was practically helpless in the case of a
recession or loss of job.
The idea of saving, if uppermost in his mind, had to be illusory.
For the American worker's pay (and therefore his standard of living)
was no better than the European's pay for the same work.
During practically the full nineteenth century, when
American industry grew from minuteness to the world's most
exceeding Britain and Germany combined,
the going rate of pay for a man's interminable day's work
was one dollar ($1.00). In 1995 terms, this dollar would
amount to about $25.00. A man would say,
"Another day, another dollar."
A steady year's work - rare to be sure - would bring him about
$7700.00 in today's money. This would make a loaf of bread, then
$0.05, now $1.25, not far from the case, and a bag of roll-your-own
tobacco about the equivalent then and now. A pair of shoes cost
$1.00 then, which would perhaps not be enough at $25 or $30 in
1990. Without birth control and without a working wife, the family
economy of most American workers everywhere, in all industries,
of all grades, was straitened, if not miserable. We recall that a great
many workers, perhaps a majority in many years, could not find
work lasting all year around.
During and after World War II, American labor unions were riding
high. Wages were excellent, dues were automatically paid over to the
union treasuries in many cases, new wage agreements brought regular
increases and fringe benefits like pensions and lengthened vacations.
Disability benefits were easier to obtain.
Strikes were common because the union treasuries were rich, their
negotiating position strong, and their backing by the city and
national Democratic Party politicians dependable. Strikes involving a
thousand or more workers averaged near 400 per year in the fifties,
dropped and rose again, but beginning in 1971 started on a long
decline until only 32 such strikes occurred in 1995, two of them
prolonged and bitter, against Caterpillar Tractor and Boeing
Aircraft. A postal workers strike of 152,000 workers in 1970 was
broken when President Nixon called upon Federal troops to deliver
the mails. Most air traffic controllers, a crucial and highly skilled
group of over 12,000, were fired when they refused an
order of President Reagan to return to work.
A large-scale transformation of industry and economy was taking
place. Steel and mining and all their associated suppliers and clients
slipped into permanent decline; industrial towns decayed; service
jobs were created far faster than manufacturing positions. With
lower profits and sell-outs in the offing, employers became more
stubborn. Union morale dropped.
The seaports mechanized and also lost their trade and with this the
power of sailors' and longshoremen's unions fell. The railroad
unions and the Pullman Car Porters Union lost almost the whole of
the passenger trains' millions to the airlines. The airlines were
unionized, of course, but the ideology of unionism was absent.
Unionized skills declined - bricklaying, for instance, while
non-unionized skills increased - computer work, for instance. The
electronic revolution, automation, robotry:
workers became dispensable.
True, some companies developed excellent worker-manager
relations systems, and the new management generation of 1955 to
1985, roughly, was much better educated in human relations in
industry, a concept that grew out of experimental studies in
industrial sociology. At the better universities large new curricula in
the field became available and were required.
After not even a half-century of prominence and prosperity, the
industrial unions became toothless old tigers. They could hardly react
when wave upon wave of dismissals struck in the last decades
of the century. The glorious unionized republic as the dream of the
American worker was gone with the wind.
As if the laws of nature were determined to help the distressed country
despite itself, the Great Depression displayed some positive features.
The soil was less abused than it had been before in some areas because
of the futility of farming it. People lamented "the grass growing on the
streets," but this signified much less traffic, fewer trains puffing about,
less of the totally leaded and un-exhausted gasoline emerging from
millions of vehicles, less trees cut down.
Had it not been for the slowdown in many material processes during
the Great Depression, Americans would have undergone
a decade of accelerated deterioration of environment
and resources. By the end of the century the crisis of the
environment would be well-nigh insufferable.
There occurred a healthy decline in the birth rate, and many
innovations in technology to reduce costs of manufacturing and
consumption. People conserved everything; solid wastes diminished;
today's bread was eaten tomorrow and the next day; automobiles
lasted forever; families were drawn together; far less
construction materials were used; people read more and
used the public libraries.
Some of these developments were confirmed and reinforced by the
New Deal: the libraries received direct aid; rewards for conserving
soil were initiated; and the arts - all of them - flourished as never
before. People had much more time to think, to contemplate
existence, its good and bad sides. They were not educated to think,
of course, and a lot of illogical thoughts and queer perceptions
emerged, but the number of the intelligentsia grew more rapidly
than ever before, too. Granted that hungrifying and humiliating half the
population is not a recommended way of stimulating the arts and
sciences. No more than it is for reducing the rate of destruction of
the air, water, forests, and soil of the country.
The two stages of Government in the Great Depression -
the do-little and the try-much stages - afforded lessons that passed
unlearned. The Depression's extended painfulness made people and
historians forget the positive features of life in the Depression, such
as were just referred to and pointed out above and elsewhere in the
last two chapters. There was probably no net loss and a real gain in
the level of brotherhood, camaraderie, and personal affection during
the decade of the 1930's. People helped one another
much more than before or afterwards.
The decrease in income and material consumption endured by
millions of well-to-do households did not harm, but rather helped
them; a brake was put on wildly careening credit and consumption.
Reasonable recreation - inexpensive and informal games and
pastimes - increased, and the route to the total professionalization,
commercialization, and massifying of sports was
retarded for a few years.
Many millions of people learned to do things for themselves and to do
so on very little. In the light of poverty and decrepitude, an aesthetic
dimension of the country was effected and even noticed by artists. The
humbling and ensuing frequent humility of a great many people was a
welcome contrast to their previous arrogance and presumption.
The rich and mighty were shown to be vulnerable,
even as blundering and helpless as the worker at the lathe and
the housewife with her brood.
The whole country was quieter. People appreciated their personal
possibilities more, whether of education or a vacation in the
country. People lived more intensely, not only because they were
more anxious, a most negative aspect of the whole period, but also
because they had to stand aside, or back, and look at the world for
what it was, and could join it in a new and more real,
more existential sense. .
The New Deal brought in new experiences that should have been
eternally valuable and should have formed the basis for thought ever
since then, not conventional thinking that welfare budgets should not
be cut, etc., or that every time the economic indicators dip we should
increase public works, but that a population such as the American
needed, and could handle very well, and could easily
afford a system of basic subsistence minimum income, womb to
tomb, always provided that it was not presented as an undeserved
charity of the rich or the taxpayer or some privileged power group,
administered tightly by a host of social service workers, but as a right
and an expectation coincident and subsequent to the bringing of
a new life into the world.
The concept that there was employment for all who could work, and
that a basic income was everyone's right, whether on a job or not,
appeared reasonable, and that this income should be set at a
sufficiency for the decent minimum of food, lodging, dress, moving
around in the world, gaining an education and knowing what is
going on in the world, with the same guarantees of personal liberty
and justice that the high and mighty possessed: this concept was
formulated pathetically, clumsily, apologetically,
deviously, under the New Deal, but it proved itself
effective, as well as beneficial and benevolent.
Perhaps the most striking way in which the New Deal proved itself of
fundamental value is totally misunderstood. I have mentioned the
mystery of the Persistence of the Great Depression. Why did the
situation not improve greatly, why was the depression not ended, until
World War II put an artificial end to it?
Suppose now, although they would never admit it, be it from
shame, or because they were not conscious of it, or because they
found themselves on top of a good situation with a job and good
material existence - suppose that from 20% to 70% of the
population had not only become habituated to the lower
employment, production, and consumption levels of a decade of
deprivation, but indeed were adjusted to the whole of it, and content
with it to the point where they were unwilling to make the effort to
crank up the monster economy with its honking unnerving boloney
breath and set it once more on the road to nowhere.
After a decade of Un-living the American Dream so-called, they
were in a relaxed state of relative deprivation with the whole world
as company. It is just possible that a great many Americans of all
classes, races, ethnicities, religions, occupations, and regions were
subtly voting for this kind of life, while the seeming masters of the
economy and the media and politics were beating their breasts and
tearing their hair.
Maybe the moment was approaching when there would have been
forced upon Americans a fundamental reconsideration of American
society and government, its proper specific goals and the means to
achieve them. If so, the advent of World War II frustrated it.