Readings: What Will Happen to Fairness?

It is amazing how, as history rushes by, American culture, fixated on the “now,” can be cut off from its roots.  Just as college professors meet recent generations who can not tell World War I from World War II, more and more can not tell Franklin D. Roosevelt from Franklin Pierce.

That’s one reason why over the past month a cabal of conservative Republicans and members of the Tea Party have been able to use the budget crisis to trash the accomplishments of perhaps the most significant decade in modern American history: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. They behave as if we could just type the words “New Deal” on the screen and then push the delete button. Poof! It’s gone. And as the words disappear, they hope, so will the once common belief that America has a moral obligation to use its collective wealth to protect the weak and poor in our midst.  And yes, the rich have a civic duty to pay higher taxes than the poor.  The New Yorker catches the spirit of our times in its latest cover where three fat tycoons in tuxedoes and high hats stretch out in their lifeboat with martinis and cigars while on the horizon their ocean liner goes down, impaled by a sharp, plunging arrow of the stock market, drowning everyone else.


A few months after F.D.R. took office, I experienced the Depression and the New Deal as a child growing up in Trenton, N.J.  My father was an editorial writer for the Trenton Times, and he worked for three other papers on the side. My mother taught school.  So we had enough, but not a lot, of money. I remember that poor, hungry men in rags came to our back door and they would be invited in to eat with us.  When our father took my brother Dave and me to a band concert in the park, he explained that it was a WPA band made up of unemployed musicians hired by the Works Project Administration. The government created the jobs to give the musicians the dignity of work and to give the joy of music to the public.

In Sunday’s Washington Post David F. Weiman, a Barnard College economics professor, depicts what our world would look like if there had been no New Deal.  “It would be a fight for economic survival with no coordinated effort at recovery.” The Civilian Conservation Corps put three million young men to work on the environment in three years. The New Deal enhanced the quality of life: infant mortality, which had risen sharply during the Depression now fell dramatically.  The WPA added new roads and electrical power networks. With government leadership we built Grand Coulee and Hoover dams in the West and the Tennessee Valley Authority in the South.  The New Deal electrified rural America through cooperatives that delivered cheap reliable power.  New York commuters can thank the New Deal for the F.D.R. Drive, the Triborough and Whitestone bridges and the Lincoln Tunnel. It built up the south with new roads, hospitals and schools.

Most significant, the New Deal empowered otherwise marginalized groups like industrial workers with the Wagner Act and the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act by creating the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, and improving overall working conditions for all workers, not just labor unions. Weiman writes, “The New Deal gave us the weekend. Would we have one without it?”

As a result the working people, the middle class, gained a political power to which they were entitled to balance off the otherwise unlimited power of the big corporations.  Meanwhile “federal agencies mediated conflicts and forged compromises between private interests.”  Weiman concludes: “This last legacy of the New Deal—fairness—may be its most important.  If the House Republicans have their way, we may be stranded in a world without it.”

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7 years 5 months ago
I grew up in a family that worshiped Roosevelt.  My parents, grandfather and several around me painted him almost as a saint.  Being a Democrat was part of their DNA and it was part of mine till my mid 20's.  Then I started reading and understanding economics and politics and that all changed.

In the last two years I have read parts of four different histories of the Depression and its causes.  I find it incredible that anyone could look to this era as a positive one 

''the accomplishments of perhaps the most significant decade in modern American history:'' 

Both Hoover and Roosevelt are deeply responsible for the debacle of that era.  The only thing that got us out of the morass was Roosevelt's death and the ability of many politicians after the War to start rolling back the madness he unleashed.  Maybe Fr. Schroth should start reading some of those histories.  Maybe the Tea Party has read them and that is why they are trying to restore some sanity to our society.
Helen Smith
7 years 5 months ago
JR Cosgrove:

Will you share your reading list with the rest of us?
7 years 5 months ago
Mr. Cosgrove, we all think the depression was horrible.
What histoties did you read and how did they blame FDR?
I think most Americans who came through that period thought FDR saved us and that revksionists on the righ tare trying to discredit him.
Some facts???
7 years 5 months ago

A reading list for the Depression:

FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression by Jim Powell 
New Deal or Raw Deal?: How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America by Burton Folsom 
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes
Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg

And I too am 100% grateful that FDR repealed Prohibition. 

A telling fact from Folsom's book.   From the mouth of FDR's Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, in May of 1939.

'We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I am wrong…somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises…. I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started…. And an enormous debt to boot!' 

The economist that Fr. Schroth pointed to is repeating the mantra that the Democrats are spreading via the press and others, namely that the stimulus was not big enough.  That is nonsense.  What they want a stimulus for is to payoff those who vote for them which is what the one two years ago mainly did.  But the money ran out so there no more available to bribe for votes before the next election.  This is how Roosevelt won elections in the 1930's after he first got elected.  He spread billions of dollars around to where he needed votes and called it some government program.
Helen Smith
7 years 5 months ago
JR Cosgrove:

Hmm! Nothing by Paul Krugman?
7 years 5 months ago
If we're holding up government intervention in the economic realm as the sine qua non of "fairness", we should be open to abuse.  I have yet to see serious progressives wrestle with the troubles at Fannie & Freddie detailed in the recent book "Reckless Endangerment" by NY Times reporter Gretchen Morgensen.  It details the corrupting nexus of so-called social justice Democrats like Barney Frank and the housing bubble.
Helena Loflin
7 years 5 months ago
Yep.  Revisionist history.
Helen Smith
7 years 5 months ago
Well Misters Cosgrove and  Kash:

I hope that when you reach the pearly gates that my grand-mother and my father do not have the ear of St. Peter, because you better have a stash of plenary indulgences in your pockets.
ed gleason
7 years 5 months ago
For the last 3 decades we have had a GOP WH except for 8 years of Clinton compromising with the GOP. What are you guys taking about FDR and the 30s  for?
the DOW was 6500 days, days days  after Obama took over. Blame him?  
7 years 5 months ago
Helen (is that you first name or last?)  what are you implying?
Vince Killoran
7 years 5 months ago
To books to which Cosgrove refers are really bad history-written by journalist and political hacks, not professional historians.  Revisionism at its worst.

For a scathing review of Shales book see U-Calf. historian Eric Rauchway's article from a few years ago:
7 years 5 months ago
Wow; so if we disagree with someone politically, we're going to hell?  Or they're automatically a "political hack" guilty of "revisionism"?

Love that liberal diversity!
Helen Smith
7 years 5 months ago
Who sent you to hell?  Not me. (I don't not know the state of your soul.) I was just using a rhetorical point, nothing  else. Sorry. But we may meet in Purgatory someday.

Joe Kash: My first name is Helen spelled with one L.

7 years 5 months ago
''What are you guys taking about FDR and the 30s  for?''

That is the basic theme of the post, how wonderful FDR was.

 ''the DOW was 6500 days, days days  after Obama took over. Blame him?  ''

Yes, why not.  It happened on his watch and that is what people tend to do.  Now that is absurd but the root cause of the financial crisis was the housing fiasco and the primary cause of that was Fannie Mae.  Guess who was the biggest recipient of money from Fannie Mae.  If you said Obama, you would be right.  So is Obama by being a big supporter of the cause of the financial crisis to be blamed.  That doesn't fit the template that Obama keeps on using to blame those who came before him but if he was an honest man, then he would blame himself.
Vince Killoran
7 years 5 months ago
Ah, yes, good old Uncle Milt.

One of my favorite anecdotes relating to him apppeared shortly after his death in 2006:

 Art Hilgart, a retired industrial economist, recalls hearing Friedman lecture in 1991 and recommend the destruction of Medicare, welfare, the postal system, Social Security and public education. The audience was dumbfounded.
Finally, a brave young woman asked what this would mean for poverty. "There is no poverty in America," Friedman instructed. A clear voice arose from the back of hall: "Bullshit!" The audience cheered wildly.
Vince Killoran
7 years 5 months ago
"I never sent my kids to one day of public education and they are the better for it."

That's delightful news-but the private school you sent them to did take government $$.  Also, I think you've mentioned in previous posts that you run a business-most of your employees were educated in public school (a, most likely, was your doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.).

Uncle Milty was a free market utopian who was wrong time & again.

Since we've been around & around on this before I refer you to previous exchanges about the virtues of the civic realm v. the privatized, gated world of Cosgrove.
7 years 5 months ago
The ones who criticize Milton Friedman have given us Detroit and similar inner cities, 70% illegitimacy rates among African Americans and essentially no normal family life,  high illegitimacy rates among other groups, the housing crisis which has our country in a turmoil, government spending policies that do nothing good, runaway expenses that threaten to bankrupt the country and an educational system that is falling apart at the seems.
Hurah for Milton Friedman.  If I was a person that backed all these liberal fantasies that are destroying large parts of our society I would be worried about what St. Peter might say at the pearly gates.  He would say the Lord asked you to help the poor and all you did was make more of them both financially and spiritually by taking the easy way out, taking other people's money to ease your conscience when time and time again we showed you it didn't work.
Helen Smith
7 years 5 months ago
To JR Cosgrove:

An afterthought:

But, he repealed Prohibition. That puts him high on my list.
7 years 5 months ago
Oh boy, just what we needed - yet ANOTHER post castigating Republicans, conservatives, and "Tea Partiers" who apparently want to get rid of FAIRNESS (which is news to this evil Republican)!!

FDR was a great President, but let's not forget he took some liberties in an attempt to get his way, i.e. court packing (for which he was rightly castigated by the electorate in the Congressional elections), and I would hardly conclude that appointing Joseph P. Kennedy as the first SEC commissioner is an example we should celebrate.  Then there's that little point about Japanese internment camps.

Again, I beg America's editorial board - is there not a single person you can find somewhat sympathetic to conservative readers, at least someone who can fairly analyze the arguments?
7 years 5 months ago
''Nothing by Paul Krugman?''

I believe Krugman has disqualified himself as a serioius spokesperson on this.  He is in favor of inflating the economy to get us out of it and thinks we should default on our debt.  He should read about the 1970's and what that did and the mess it caused when the Fed when Carter was around inflated the economy and the government used spending to revive the economy and we got instead stagflation.  Also Krugman is a self identified liberal and it was liberal policies that got us into this mess and is continuing to keep us in the mess. 

Bernacke seems to be following Krugman's recommendations and trying to inflate the economy by printing money, QE1 and QE2 and they are considering QE3 very tentatively.  But the problem is that this money has gone overseas instead of stimulating US economic activity and inflated other things including food prices.  Hello, Arab Spring which started out as protest over rising food prices.  And our gasoline prices have risen.

We will see what happens about all the commodity inflation as world commerce starts to subside.  Gasoline went down a little today so we will se where it leads to.  Gasoline price have taken a lot of money out of the US economy.
7 years 5 months ago
From Burton Fulsom:

The president [F.D.R., during WWII's final year] 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.
Tom Maher
7 years 5 months ago
The U.S. Constitution and American political tradition and culture does not have "fairness"  as a central or foundational legal or politcal principle.  American politics operates in a much older and broader framework which originated from the American Revolution not the New Deal .

The politcs of the New Deal are the reaction to the extreme and unusual  social and economic conditions of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  The world and the economy are now very different than in the 1930s.   New Deal politics and programs makes no sense in the context of 21 st century world and economy.  For example, the 2009 massive 1930s style economic stimulus program produced no jobs or economic results and cost almost a trillion dollars.  Fairness has nothing to do with having a sound economic policy that works in today's world. 
7 years 5 months ago
''recommend the destruction of Medicare, welfare, the postal system, Social Security and public education.''

If Friedman did say these things, then hurrah for Milton Friedman.  He was not advocating the abolishing of these activities, just how they were organized and funded.   Welfare has been a disaster for the country especially the poor as it created more poor and destroyed family life, the postal system is going out of business and maybe if it had to compete it would have been a financially stronger organization, social security has gone way beyond its original intention and is going broke, medicare is draining the funds of the country and I never sent my kids to one day of public education and they are the better for it.

So let's here it for Milton Friedman, a very prescient observer of the world.
7 years 5 months ago
"Uncle Milty was a free market utopian who was wrong time & again."

A strange assertion for a Nobel prize-winning economist. Or perhaps given Krugmann's prize, maybe it's the Nobel committee that's wrong time and again.


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