Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal
Eminent scholarship and critical historical reviews to the contrary notwithstanding, there was little about the New Deal that could be called “conservative”, unless one looks at the Merriam-Webster Online definition of “conservative” as a noun, letter “b” under “2” (“a cautious or discreet person”); and from that concludes that FDR was “cautious” not to allow America to slip into another Depression – hence, the New Deal. But in fact, the New Deal was, without doubt, a revolutionary series of programs, simply because of the impressive number of innovative, bold initiatives it created.
What was the New Deal?
A few of the successful programs that were part of the New Deal (reference materials provided by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum ) include: The Emergency Banking Act (FDIC), (helped prevent another Depression); The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) (support for local relief agencies); The Civil Works Administration (CWA) (created jobs repairing roads, parks, etc. for 4 million workers); The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) (put 2. 5 million unmarried men to work in the forests, parks; and also put 8, 500 women to work in conservation-related jobs); The Indian Reorganization Act (restored much land to Native Americans); Public Works Association (built dams); Federal Securities Act (regulated stock market); Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) (provided inexpensive electrical power); Works Progress Administration (WPA) (8 million went to work constructing schools, hospitals, etc. ); Farm Security Administration (more than $1 billion was loaned to farmers); National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) (collective bargaining, rules governing unions); Fair Labor Standards Act (banned child labor); and the Social Security Act (established a national system for retirement pensions; still today one of the most successful government programs ever).
In looking back on what the conditions of the country then, a nation just emerging Richard S. Kirkendall, while providing a plethora of opinions from numerous scholars in his journal article, does come back repeatedly to his theme that the New Deal had a “large role in the establishment of ‘Big Government’ and had an “even larger part in the development of ‘Big Labor’. ”Were the New Deal years a time of dramatic, radical increases in the size and power of government, with reference to the economy? Kirkendall asks. Not all recent literature supports this notion, he explains, quoting scholar Gerald Nash as saying that the U. S. Government “has always played an important role in relation to the economy. ” The bottom line as to this issue, Kirkendall continues, is that no, the New Deal isn’t the first time that government created programs and took a powerful interest in the economy: there was the war emergency program by Woodrow Wilson; and government’s response to Populism and Progressivism; and indeed, during Hoover years there were conservation programs that set the stage for the CCC and the CWA of the New Deal.
As to the question, “Did the New Deal totally remake the system, or did it preserve the old one? – the next author believes it just re-invented the old one. There have surely been doubts cast by scholars, historians, researchers, on all major federal initiatives that have attempted to or did change/transform the state (U. S. Government). Meanwhile, the impact of the changes brought forward and instituted by FDR’s New Deal, according to the viewpoint of Michael S. Lewis-Beck, is that “the state transforming properties of the New Deal have been much exaggerated” – and that “the state, as a functioning political organ, emerges as little changed by the New Deal, ” he adds.
While some textbooks paint a picture that show Herbert Hoover’s “New Era” and FDR’s “New Deal” as “polar opposites, ” Lewis-Beck disagrees. He says that the New Deal wasn’t so much a “fiscal revolution” as it was “elaborate old policies. ” In fact, the writer continues, while FDR is a progressive and liberal, Hoover is being touted as the same kind of leader, by some historians – adding to Lewis-Beck’s argument that FDR was not so very different from the politicians who preceded him. He cites several examples of programs FDR gets credit for that were initiated during the Hoover administration: The FERA, the NRA, the FDIC, the PWA, and more. “We didn’t admit it at the time, ” Lewis-Beck quotes FDR “braintruster” Rexford Tugwell as saying, “but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started. ”Indeed, Lewis-Beck offers readers an “interrupted time-series” (ITS) test, with esoteric mathematical formulae, to attempt a kind of empirical analysis, juxtaposing the New Era with the New Deal. Plugging in numbers and equations the writer comes up with the conclusion that the great transformation FDR is credited with did not really occur. Writer John A. Garraty, meanwhile, while investigating the way in which nations responded to the Great Depression (which was world-wide in the years 1933 to 1937), boldly makes a comparison of Nazi Germany and the United States. Garraty writes that “the choice of Nazi Germany and America is neither capricious nor perverse” – and that the “Nazi and New Deal” policies in fighting the depression “displayed striking similarities. ”Prior to pointing out the similarities, Garraty goes to great lengths to establish that he isn’t suggesting the “New Deal was a form of fascism” or that “Nazism was anything but an unmitigated disaster. ” As to his premise, he points out that both the Nazis and the U. S. dealt aggressively with poverty and mass unemployment, and both “combined direct relief for the indigent with public works programs to create jobs. ”
There were seemingly wasteful aspects of some New Deal public works projects, and of Nazi projects (like huge stadiums); and while the German’s public works consisted of big money spent on many military initiatives, so did the public works programs in America, Garraty writes. Indeed, the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Enterprise, plus “four cruisers, many lesser warships, ” over 150 army planes and 50 military airports were built with PWA money – some $824 million in all, Garraty asserts. Also, to conclude the similarities Garraty has drawn, the Nazis and the Americans had work camps, and both were put together “on semi-military lines. ” Meanwhile, was there one New Deal, or, as Elliot A. Rosen argues, were there two New Deals? And which historians, the stylish pro-FDR Arthur Schlesinger, or and anti-New Deal Paul Conklin, got it right? These four above-mentioned questions do not lend themselves precisely to – nor address in any exact way towards – answering either of the questions posed for this paper. Rosen’s essay “is a dissent” from the view that “the domestic phase of the Roosevelt era has been laid to rest by historians, ” he writes. And of course, Rosen wrote the essay 33 years ago, and while his information – gleaned from “recently opened collections” from “key participants” in New Deal formulations like Raymond Moley and Felix Frankfurter – is historically interesting, it also reads as a kind of anti-FDR intellectual nit-picking.
What did the New Deal really do? That is a question which will probably never go away, if there are historians, intellectuals, and members of the “left” and the “right” movements in America. Jerold S. Auerbach writes (in 1969) that the New Deal is not in good stead with “the New Left” (a phrase from the Sixties) – and in fact the New Deal to left-leaning politically active citizens in the Sixties, Auerbach, writes, “seem more ominous even than the reign of George III. ” And “far more serious” Auerbach contends, than criticism from the likes of Paul Conklin, is the charge that the New Deal “failed to resolve, or even attack, fundamental social problems. ” But, was that what the New Deal promised – to solve all America’s social problems?
Not at all; in fact, the New Deal was initiated to a) help pull America out of the Great Depression, which it did; b) to put people back to work, some kind of temporary work at least, to give them dignity and food on the table, which it did; c) to help rebuild infrastructure, roads, parks, etc. , which it did; and d) to reform the economy to the point where investors, banks, citizens, and businesses felt more secure, which it did. Auerbach is clearly not in the “New Left” camp, and he makes good arguments to counter the criticisms of the “New Left, ” but that was a long time ago, and the New Deal looks pretty good from the perspective of 2005, when one considers what any alternatives might have been able to accomplish.
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