Thursday, May 5, 2016

FDR's preference for government action over philanthropy

(Franklin Roosevelt, 1932. Also pictured is Anna Roosevelt, FDR's daughter, and Francis Carr, a prominent California Democrat. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

During a 1932 speech in Detroit, FDR said, "Now, my friends, the philosophy of social justice that I am going to talk about this Sabbath day, the philosophy of social justice through social action, calls definitely, plainly, for the reduction of poverty. And what do we mean when we talk about the reduction of poverty? We mean the reduction of the causes of poverty."

He then highlighted unemployment as a cause of poverty and said, "Some leaders have wisely declared for a system of unemployment insurance throughout this broad land of ours; and we are going to come to it." But FDR also called for the provision of public jobs for the unemployed: "The followers of the philosophy of 'social action for the prevention of poverty' maintain that if we set up a system of justice we shall have small need for the exercise of mere philanthropy. Justice, after all, is the first goal we seek. We believe that when justice has been done individualism will have a greater security to devote the best that individualism itself can give. In other words, my friends, our long-range objective is not a dole, but a job" (emphasis added).

FDR then described the role of government: "And so the State should step in to equalize the burden by providing for a large portion of the care of the victims of poverty and by providing assistance and guidance for local communities. Above and beyond that duty of the States the national Government has a responsibility."

At the time of this speech, FDR was the governor of New York, and he had implemented a work-relief program there (with the assistance of funds made possible, in part, by President Herbert Hoover). Once in the White House, FDR--along with his fellow New Deal policymakers--greatly expanded work-relief, with the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civil Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration. Collectively, these programs hired about 20 million jobless Americans.

Today, when people lose their jobs, our society first refers them to unemployment insurance (assuming they're eligible, not everyone is), and then to the wealthy, to beg for their whimsical philanthropy or their magical "job-creating powers." Missing from the picture is a large government work-relief program, like the WPA, where workers can preserve their skills and earn a small amount of money until they find something better (while also improving the nation's infrastructure, preserving our history, providing social services, etc.). 

One of the main causes of poverty in America today is the absence of work-relief. Those who cry out, in wide-eyed wonder, "free market!" and "personal responsibility!" are utterly ignorant about a key and constant goal of business - the reduction of labor cost, i.e., the reduction of employees. Business men and women, who the free-marketeers worship as "job creators," are always looking for ways to get rid of workers or, at the very least, keep the number of employees as low as possible. Why? Because it's a drain on profits. Therefore, we need to counterbalance that with a work-relief program, so people can have a poverty-free transition from one job to another. FDR mostly understood this. Some of his advisers and administrators during the New Deal, like Harry Hopkins, Louis Howe, Raymond Moley, and Corrington Gill, fully understood it.

Our society today? No, we don't understand it. And we pay dearly for that lack of understanding, in the form of soul-crushing unemployment, homelessness, ruined credit, debt collection harassment, lost homes, and so much more. Unfortunately, we've submitted to the idiots who wring their hands in joy and squeal about the wonders of the holy "free market." Hopefully, a future generation will wake up and fight back.


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