Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rex Tugwell of FDR's Brain Trust: The New Deal in Retrospect

Rexford Guy Tugwell (1891-1979) was an economist and one of the most important and innovative members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first Brain-Trust. Tugwell studied economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania under Simon Patten, at the time one of the leading economists in the USA and one of the last great economists to emphasize the difference between productive economic activity, and economic rent seeking. Patten was a founder of the American Economics Association.

This was decades before Wharton was infested by neoliberalism and became an MBA mill.

This account by Tugwell provides an excellent short history of the pre-war Roosevelt administration. I greatly wish I had been aware of it nine years ago, in time to have posted it during Obama's first campaign. It would have served as a signpost to an alternative to neoliberalism, which Obama unfortunately followed steadily as he moved from one accommodation with Wall Street to the next. In addition to my reading of countless articles these past 8 years, I have read Obama’s two autobiographies, Plouffe’s book, and the biographies by Halperin and Heilemann, Remnick, and Alter, and the excellent book detailing the influence of Wall Street by Suskind, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President. One thing that strikes me is that neither Obama, nor Plouffe, nor anyone else close to Obama, ever spoke of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal as if they were actually familiar with them or wished to emulate FDR. I suspect they have never studied Roosevelt and the New Deal, at least not with the goal of learning how to govern as well and as dynamically as FDR did. Obama and his team certainly never discussed the heroic measures Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins took to get millions of people a paying job so they wouldn’t starve in the winter of 1933-34.

Suskind’s book is excellent for seeing Obama and his advisors in relation to the financial crash. They were complete dolts: never saw it coming, and had no idea why it had happened. (And it is an outright lie to argue no one saw it coming; there were many economists, including Dean Baker, Gerald Epstein, Michael Hudson, Thomas Palley, and Nouriel Roubini, who rejected the neoliberal infatuation with big banks and finance and were fully aware of reality.) According to Suskind's account, Obama knew far more than the people around him, but only because he had become friends with Robert Wolf of UBS, and Wolf was giving Obama detailed accounts of what was happening in the financial markets. Otherwise, Obama would have been as surprised and lost as everyone else.

And I would also point to the stark contrast between Roosevelt's Brain-Trustcomprised of men such as Hopkins, Tugwell, and Marriner Eccles, who truly were able to "think outside the box"and the sly but slack-minded devotees of neoliberalism Obama surrounded himself with. Who did Obama select as his advisers? "Getting Timothy Geithner and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers working in harness is Obama's single biggest post-election victory," E.J. Dionne wrote in the Washington Post three weeks after the November 2008 election. It does not even require the perspective of a few years to see that the difference was neoliberalism and the acceptance of it by Obama's team; all the people who warned—as early as the first half of 2008that Obama was picking an economics team philosophically and intellectually incapable of steering the nation to safety away from the status quo, based their warnings on the Obamians' devotion to neoliberalism. Naomi Klein began her June 2008 warning with this telling quote from Obama himself: "Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market."

In contrast to Obama's complete devotion to the status quo of neoliberal economics, Tugwell links Roosevelt directly to the progressive economic populism of "Ignatius Donnelley, Pitchfork Ben Tillman, Tom Watson, Sockless Jerry Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Lease Farmers’ Alliance, the Grangers, and the Populists in the Midwest and the South." Tugwell also identifies the key difference between Roosevelt and the preceding Republicans who had steered the country into the Depression: the belief that the "federal government had a direct responsibility to the people for their welfare." The rejection of this belief is why political rule by Republicans always results in financial crashes and  economic disaster.


The Western Political Quarterly
December, 1948, Vol. 1, No. 4

It may seem strangeincongruousto speak of President Roosevelt as in direct descent, politically, from Ignatius Donnelley, Pitchfork Ben Tillman, Tom Watson, Sockless Jerry Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Lease, that wild-eyed agrarian female radical who shouted up and down America in 1890 that farmers ought to raise less corn and more hell. It is nevertheless true that President Roosevelt owed his election largelynot, of course, whollyto the movement, long gathering force, long frustrated, which was headed by Donnelley and others of the Farmers’ Alliance, the Grangers, and the Populists in the Midwest and the South of the last century. It would be more accurate to say that President Roosevelt was in direct descent from Bryan, and that Bryan had been the inheritor of all the agrarian unrest. That he won, as Bryan could not, was because the depression of 1929 was worse than that of 1893, and because the number of those who were shaken in their Republicanism was greater in proportion to the whole.

It is possible that this overemphasizes the agricultural influence on the election of 1932. But on the whole I do not think so. There never has been a time, since the opening and settlement of the West, when a union of the West with the Souththe traditional marriage of corn with cottonwas not an irresistible political combination. Since the Civil War, because Republican reconstruction alienated the defeated States, a combination had been available only to the Democrats. The Republicans had had to depend on the somewhat less solid Northeast for a combination with the West. And usually the Republican alliance with big business had been difficult, to say the least, to sell to the farmers. During the Harrison and McKinley days, and even during the Roosevelt and Taft administrations, to say nothing of the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover era, the Republicans were the party of respectability and responsibility; they were conservative, sound, devoted to the interests of business, in favor of high tariffs, suspicious of labor, and against currency manipulation. They were the party of the creditors. They were, also, all the time, a majority party, notwithstanding the Wilsonian interlude from 1912 to 1920. Wilson was a minority President for at least four years; and possibly, in one sense, eight, since issues were so greatly confused by war as hardly to be separable, and he may have squeezed through in 1916 for other than domestic reasons.

Bryan, of course, in 1896, and afterward in 1900 and 1908, was the first of the national political leaders to represent in a formidable way the interests of the agrarian West against the East. The campaign of 1896 was one of the most thrilling in all American history. Almost half a century of agrarian unrest and resentment found its embodiment in the silver-tongued boy-orator of the Platte. But Hanna, with the impeccably respectable McKinley as his candidate, managed to defeat him. That was the high tide. Never again would the Populist movement have so much support. For America was on the make. Farmers might feel ill-used and exploited; labor might be more resentful as the attempt was made to unionize and bargain collectively for the alleviation of long hours, low wages and execrable working conditions, and as courts and legislatures hampered progress; but that part of America which was on the make was still a majorityor could be made to seem so. But in 1932, the great bubble of prosperity had burst, and a decade-long depression in agriculture was registering at last in appropriate political terms.

On the whole, with minor setbacks, the increase in productivity in America, together with the exploitation of a continent still largely unexhausted by soil erosion and the depletion of other resources, had kept the challenging critics of things-as-they-are from becoming a majority until 1932. The situation which existed after World War I was one in which complacency, conservatism, loyal mutual support between government and business, together with isolation, seemed to a majority of the electorate to be a sufficient policy for the times. People wanted normalcy after their adventure abroad. Mr. Hoover, however, inheriting what had now become a tradition fixed by Harding and Coolidge, found himself unable to overcome a fast-developing crisis in economic life which began in the late ’20’s. And he was, of course, humiliatingly defeated by President Roosevelt in 1932, after serving for one term. He had won, it will be remembered, from Smith in 1928. But that campaign had been less dramatic than the concurrent phenomena of the bull market. The economic issue was not yet ready for political exploitation. There was still prosperity for almost everyone but the farmers.

What was the economic crisis? And how far had it gone by 1932? It had begunand here is the connection with the agrarians and the long western disaffection which had been so brilliantly personified by Bryanby a disastrous fall of farm prices in 1920-21. There had begun, then, one of those unbalanced deflationary movements which so often have occurred in American economic life as a result of the unplanned and uncontrolled actions of economic groups in pursuit of private interests. The world had wanted farm products in great quantity during the war; after it was over, an expanded agriculture found its markets failing and its prices going down. But prices of manufactured goods (which the farmer must buy) stayed high. It took more unprocessed wheat, hogs, cotton, or corn to buy farm machinery, or even processed food and fibre, than ever before. Presently it took almost twice as much, and farmers felt that not only natural causes were at fault. They were certain that the deflation was the result of policies originated in Washington by those who were unfriendly.

Farmers can always withstand a certain amount of this kind of thing by refusing to buy, and by becoming temporarily more self-sufficient. But there is a limit to the time the old tractor or harvester, the barn roof, or the milking machine will last without replacement. And when farmers do not buy, moreover, industry feels the loss of customers. Ultimately workers lose their jobs. The inescapable mutuality of economic groups in the American economy is thus demonstrated.

Moreover, farms have mortgages which represent what the farmer borrowed to pay for them. If the farm was bought at a time of high prices for farm-products, a high price was probably paid for the landand with a high interest rate on the mortgages. When prices fall, it becomes harder to meet the interest and practically impossible to meet payments of principal.This in turn has an effect on all the financial institutions which loan to farmers, or deal in mortgages or other farm credits. And eventually the effect is felt in other institutions with which they deal. This mayand did by 1929go all the way back to Wall Street itself.

The farm price decline had begun in 1920. City peopleindustrialists, bankers, and even workersare not much inclined to be concerned with farmers’ woesat least they had not been in the ’20’s. And otherwhere than in agriculture a great boom had been going on. It had been a peculiarity of this boom that prices had not gone up. In fact, non-farm commodity prices had been remarkably stable from 1920 to 1928. The publicity men of the industrialists had exploited this fact by talking about "profitless prosperity." But, of course, it had not actually been profitless. What had been happening as a result of the many technical advances during the war could now be understood; efficiency was greater and costs were coming down. Profits, in spite of stable prices, were going up and up.

It is one of the unalterable conditions for the successful continuation of large-scale industry that purchasing power among consumers must be sufficient to carry off the volume produced. In order to maintain purchasing power in volume, consumers’ incomes and the total of prices attached to goods and services for sale must be roughly equal. They cannot be equal unless prices come down as costs come down; otherwise, the increasing profits go into more factories and increased production. In the long run warehouses fill with goods for which there is no demand. This is a very short and, because short, inaccurate account of the basic trouble in 1929. It leaves out, for instance, the effect of the vast pools of sterile savings, and also those which financed the wild speculation after 1927. But it does emphasize the fact that, by 1929, productive power had far outrun purchasing power. The farmers had first been priced out of the market; then other consumers had followed; and all the time vast increases in plant were being made. Also vast speculations were taking place with the ever-growing surpluses of business. Suddenly it was seen that the huge debts contracted at the inflated levels of speculation could not be paid. All creditors tried to force payment of debts to them at once. There was panic.

The Republican answer to the spreading depression after 1928 had been, first to deny its seriousness, and then to encourage the raising of private relief funds. Mr. Hoover was reluctant to admit that the government had any responsibility at all. But he did consent to the setting up of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for business relief, and this was one phase of the famous "trickle" theory which was afterward emphasized by the Democrats. The R.F.C. was finally authorized, also, to loan $300,000,000 to the states for relief; and a farm aid program, which offered more succor for processors than for farmers, was begun. But that was Mr. Hoover’s limit. He would not admit, any more than Coolidge had, that the federal government had a direct responsibility to the people for their welfare.

The campaign of 1932 came after almost four years of grinding deflation, succeeding almost a decade of agricultural depression. There were idle factories, unemployment, hungerall the phenomena of industrial paralysis. During this time Mr. Roosevelt was governor of New York where the miseries of depression were felt to their utmost. Toward the end of Mr. Hoover’s administration it became quite obvious that the time was coming for a new man and a new program; he had lost practically all his popular support. What could be more logical than that the Governor of the Empire State, a life-long liberal, an experienced and popular public figure, should succeed to the Presidency.

It was one of those times, which come occasionally in the life of the nation, when the nomination for the Presidency is especially valuable, because, unless mistakes are made, winning is a foregone conclusion. Mr. Roosevelt was a professional politician. He was well aware of the possibilities. There had been, in fact, two most astute agents at work for yearsLouis McHenry Howe and James A. Farleyrounding up delegates: or rather, preparing to round them up when the time should arrive. There was opposition to be expected. The conservative wing of the party had the choice of Byrd of Virginia and Ritchie of Maryland; and Smith naturally felt himself entitled to another chance since he had sacrificed himself in 1928. Developing events, however, favored President Roosevelt rather than an outright conservative. The depression deepened. Disillusionment with Republicanism extended itself to the normally Republican middle classes; and the Republican farmers were awaiting the word of hope to abandon their political leaders if not their party.

There was drama in the nomination of 1932 in Chicago. Not until President Roosevelt’s own forces had worked out a modus operandi with a substantial section of the Southern Democracy could the business be concluded. In this it was arranged for Mr. Garner of Texas to be Vice-President. This, it might be said, added to the fact that some seventeen chairmanships of committees in the new Congress were to be held by Southerners, would present President Roosevelt with a sectional problem which would torment him throughout his more than twelve years in the Presidency. For the West, the South, and the big city machines would make a difficult team to handle. And often compromises and trades would be necessary which would emasculate what it was proposed to do. Nevertheless, it was a condition of nomination that such a compromise should take place. And President Roosevelt, an Easterner, did join the South and the West more successfully than any politician had been able to do since the Civil War. This was where his happiest faculties had their fullest scope.

The election was less dramatic. The campaign, because its outcome became so favorable in prospect, turned into a cautious statement of progressive hopes and beliefs, the items of which had been familiar since the times of Bryan, T. R. Roosevelt, and Wilson. Nevertheless, it was a statement, however tame, of progressive intentions. Perhaps the fact that a progressive was to succeed Hoover, after Harding and Coolidge, intensified the fears of Wall Street. When a Roosevelt administration became a certainty, it became equally certain that new forces would come into control. Perhaps this may have caused the deflation to run deeper than it otherwise might. Everyone was trying to become liquidfree of debtat once. And everyone distrusted the shaky institutions of finance, which were suspected of having made vast loans abroad and to industrialists at home, with depositors’ funds, which would never be repaid. Their struggles to collect, and the unwillingness of depositors to trust them further, brought President Roosevelt to his inauguration day in the midst of complete economic paralysis, with banks closing, Governors declaring bank holidaysthat is, moratoriaunemployment at twelve or thirteen millions, hardship and misery everywhere. The great new post-war factories were now closed, transportation systems were bankrupt and idle. Only soup kitchens and what were called "Hoovervilles"shack villages on dump heapswere busy.

To a nation thus paralyzed and sunk in despair, a golden voice proclaimed in the First Inaugural that Americans had nothing to fear but fear itself. It seemed as though a great sleeper awoke at that call and found that, after all, he had a useful strength. He stretched and looked for ways to use it. No less than 460,000 citizens wrote personally to their President as a result of this one speech. It swamped the White House facilities, but it showed what a welcome change Roosevelt was after Hoover. The people had a man.

The first measures had to be emergency ones: to assuage fears, to relieve suffering, and to set up more equal exchange among those who made various kinds of goods and provided various kinds of services. Measures looking to longer-run social security could await a measure of recovery. So, in fact, could the reforms still holding over, remaining to be done, from older progressive regimesnotably the Wilsonian, though some of that program had been achieved then. [1] Theoretically the Wilsonian measures should have prevented what had happened in 1929 and subsequently. And Democrats really had the choice of saying that their reforms had been sabotaged by Republican administrations or admitting frankly what they had done had not been enough. In the Roosevelt campaign the candidate practically admitted the deficiency by way of redefining progressivism. He called it the New Deal.

The A.A.A. [Agricultural Adjustment Act] was devised to restore agriculture to "parity" [2] in the national community and bring farmers again into the concert of economic interests. And the N.R.A. [National Recovery Act] was provided to encourage the immediate resumption of industrial activitythe President’s re-employment agreement, of which the well-remembered symbol was the Blue Eagle. And along with this, the financial system was bolstered by emergency loans to banks by the R.F.C. which amounted to a guarantee of deposits, [3] gold was made a government monopoly, and the dollar devalued so that debts could be paid in cheaper money. This was inflation. In an instant, people’s savings, insurance policies, bank deposits, etc., lost about one third of their value. But hardly anyone even noticed this; they were worth very little anyway in a national debacle. But the American competitive situation in foreign markets was improved.

This fiscal program disrupted the London Economic Conference of that spring because the President would not give other nations the advantage of currencies cheaper than ours. And international agreement on economic matters would make no progress for years to come. But Americans could sell again because foreigners could buy, and domestic debtors felt better because they could resume paying their debtsso, it is to be presumed, did the creditors, except that what was owing to them was being paid in dollars with diminished value. Also the whole international scene was overshadowed by negotiations about the payment of the debts holding over from World War I. It was so widely believed that these ought to be collected that the impossibility of collecting them made a real political problem for President Roosevelt.

The administration of the new measures was necessarily ragged. For relief, for instance, there was no organization at all and one had to be devised offhand by Hopkins and his helpersWilliams, Gill, Hunter, Baker and othersand long chances had to be taken "in getting the money out." The same was true of the A.A.A. Scores of thousands of employees had to be engaged and trained on the job to do things which were just the reverse of all accepted bureaucratic rules and practices. And as for the N.R.A.-under General Johnson its administration immediately became a caricature of decent procedure.[4]

Impromptu organization and freehand administration brought criticism even from those who were benefiting most; the sharpest dissent came from the business community, which was smarting from its own failure and from the humiliating need to be bailed out and set on its feet again. During the subsequent period, when it came to putting through certain reforms, business, again fairly prosperous, was about as vigorous in its opposition as though it had not been prostrate a year or two before. Nevertheless, a Securities and Exchange Act was passed and the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice was given new life under Mr. Thurman Arnold. These will be recognized as theretofore unfinished business on the progressive agenda.

It can be imagined, even by those who belong to a generation which has no recollection of the incidents of those years, what life was like in the United States during the Great Depression following 1929 and also during the years of recovery, beginning in 1933. The years between the crash and the Roosevelt inauguration, when the nation was finally told that recovery was not hopeless but waited only for effort of the people themselves, were drab and miserable. There was shame, lost pride and broken initiative as well as hunger, cold and sickness. Perhaps the deflation had run its course by March of ’33. It was said afterward by the President’s enemies that this was so and that his measures had rather retarded than assisted. But no one thought so then. His voice came to them over the radio in the cultivated accents of Groton and Harvard; but it was warm and reassuring. What he said to do was done, even by the Congress. For the moment the Southern reactionaries were willing to give their support; and the business community which might have objected was hopelessly discredited.

There will always be question, I suppose, whether, when the policies of reaction were bankrupt and even the most pushing private interests were frightened for once into considering the state of the nation, more might not have been done. For the genuinely constructive part of the New Deal would consist, not in relieving the miseries and anxieties of depression, and not even in reforms which had been long delayed, but in taking at least the minimum measures to insure that depression might not recur. It is often said, for instanceand as often deniedthat in that spring of 1933 a genuine national banking, credit, and currency issuing system might have been set up. The sanctity of banking and bankers of the old sort had certainly evaporated. Merely to belong to a profession which had taken people’s funds for safekeeping and failed to keep them safe at all was to be under suspicion. And to this there were added the doubtful investment of depositors’ funds, and speculations in the money market and in brokers’ loans, to say nothing of proved participation in the orgiastic bull-market itself. And perhaps the public in general was the more severe for feeling guilty itself. For participation in stock gambling had been incredibly widespread. Perhaps no one would have objected much to any suggestion for change which would have made such activities impossible in the future. And the Federal Reserve Systemwhich had itself been devised in the liberal times of Wilson, although those who had studied its history knew it to be a compromisehad utterly failed to do what its authors and defenders had claimed for it: control speculation, prevent misuse of funds, and decentralize the money power. It seemed rather to have contributed to than to have checked the fatal succession of events which had led to the crash.

Mr. Laski, a shrewd observer of the American scene, in his The American Presidency, says flatly that President Roosevelt went as far as he could have gone, and he mentions specifically the criticism that the situation in 1933 was not seized on to nationalize the financial system. People who hold such views, he says, do not understand the American system. A President cannot seize occasions to establish institutions which outrun people’s understanding of what is appropriate. He must wait for opinion to precede any such action.

The answer might be made to this, that opinion was ready enough, but that President Roosevelt was not-that there was no one who knew how to set up a better system, and, especially, no one available to President Roosevelt. As a matter of fact, Wall Streetpeople like Thomas Lamont, Russel Leffingwell, Walter W. Stewart, and othershad, together with such orthodox university authorities as H. Parker Willis, B. M. Anderson, E. W. Kemmerer, et al., a monopoly of knowledge and competence in the field of money and banking. And they, all of them, had vested interests in the Federal Reserve System. There was no one in the United States, like Keynes in Britain, who represented a genuinely alternative opinion and who could have carried out a reform.

At any rate, what President Roosevelt chose to do was to take such measures as would relieve stresssegregation of gold, devaluation of the dollar, reopening of the banks with reassurance to depositors, extension of more liberal credits to farmers and home owners, expansion of loans to banks and other businesses by the already existing R.F.C. All these were intended to renew confidence in old institutions as an alternative to creating new ones.

As to Mr. Laski’s dictum that American Presidents may not get ahead of established opinion, it may be ventured that the great ones among them always have-which is one characteristic of their greatness. Jefferson made the Louisiana purchase, Monroe issued a famous hands-off warning to other powers, Lincoln appointed Grant and freed the slaves, Theodore Roosevelt created a Panama to contain the Canal, Wilson committed us to the League of Nations (it was only an error in method which prevented ratification), and President Roosevelt himself certainly took chances of the same sort, some successful, some not. Passamaquoddy, the Florida ship canal, and the subsistence homestead programs were not successes; nor was the N.R.A. But the T.V.A., the Civilian Conservation Corps, the A.A.A. and several others, were. It is too much to say that our President cannot assume a position of leadership. That there are limits no one would deny. The real question here is whether President Roosevelt did not miss a great opportunity which a Wilson, for instance, would have exploited to the limit.

Certainly the Federal Reserve System had failed; and certainly we still have itwith, of course, some added features, such as the F.D.I.C. A new system might have been mismanaged by the old hands; but that is always a risk.

What is involved here is the Roosevelt method. He did seek not only relief from the crisis of those years, but the means of preventing new ones. He chose to do it, however, by political finesse rather than by coups of the sort by which Jefferson took Louisiana or even by the bolder kind of leadership which he showed later with respect to the coming war. He preferred to manipulate interests against one another until the weight was on the side he wanted it to be on and was sufficient for the purpose. In this, his method is reminiscent of that of Lincoln, who also was a great improviser and knew the uses of compromise. He encouraged this group, discouraged or ignored that one, meted out discreet punishment, gave rewardsand, because he had a long time in which to do it, came out with something. It was not usually something new and neatly shaped to its purpose; but rather something misshaped by compromise and reluctant agreement, awkward, hard to operate, completely satisfactory to no one. But it did get a measure of the necessary result.

He utilized the potential strength of the farm lobby and its Congressional bloc, together with the temporary weakness of the industrial lobbies and their representatives, to establish agriculture in a new and very much improved bargaining position. It is true that, in administration, it would turn out to be about as favorable to the processors of farm products, to financial institutions dependent on agriculture and to the vast bureaucracy of the Farm Bureau and the state colleges as to the farmers themselves, and that it would pretty much exclude from its benefits sharecroppers and farm labor. But it was, undoubtedly, something. And it would probably offer enormous resistance to any such deflation as had happened in 1920-21.

A similar attempt to establish good businesses in a strong competitive position in the economy vis-a-vis those which were not goodthat is, businesses which would be fair to labor, would bargain collectively, and would adhere to fair standards of competition against those which would notcompletely broke down from maladministration amid the wholesale welter of sharp practice, selfishness and greed which characterized the N.R.A. in its later stages. But by then business was on its feet anyway; and business, good or bad, was not likely to suffer generally in the American economy.

Aside from this, a succession of laws, and continuing favoritism in their administration, established labor in such a bargaining position as it had never occupied before. It is sometimes said that the New Deal ended in 1936 with the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act; but the consolidation of labor’s position as a favored claimant for a share in the national income continued at least until 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed. This more or less completed a system, rather incoherent and rickety, which had begun with the 7A clauses in the N.R.A. Act, the labor provisions, and had continued through the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.

Certain other measures provided limits to future deflations. After the Social Security System was set up, however awkward and insufficient it may have been, the kind of ultimate, squalid misery which had been so prevalent from 1929 to 1933 would not be possible again so long as we had any national income to distribute. There was nothing bold about this and other similar measures; they had been commonplace in Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere for two generations; but American businessmen seemed to think-or at least saidthat they led straight to Communism. And they required characteristic Roosevelt maneuvering to achieve.

What could save and justify the Roosevelt New Deal was not, however, its minima, its bulwarks against renewed deflations and unbalance. These were good for what they were. But what was needed much more was an increase in the national income through renewed and intensified production. President Roosevelt had to cure a paralysis of the social organism brought about by the coiling constrictions of a laissez faire in the last stages of its logical development from individual enterprise to price controlling and production-reducing monopoly. One way to attack this was through government spending, which was desirable for other reasons as well-relief of poverty, the building up of resources such as water power and reclamation projects, and the rehabilitation of farms, neglected forests and parks, and blighted urban areas. The difficulty with this was that it had to precede the collection of taxes on the income it might generate, and that an annual and balanced budget was a fetish which had survived even the depression. People with savings and insurance and people on salary knew well enough what happened when the budget was unbalanced. It made their dollars less valuable. And they were against it, along with the larger financiers. President Roosevelt always had trouble with this. And he was always reluctant to do as much as was necessary to get the result of a productivity which would have buried the investment in spending in an avalanche of goods. Not until he learned to trust Keynes did he understand what had to be done, in realistic magnitudes, if the result was to be got in that way. Perhaps he did not actually learn it until the magnificent outpouring of goods for war began after the New Deal days were over.

There was another way, of course, than that of public spending, devaluation of the dollar and inflation. That was the way of control and, indeed, of strict public management of the price structure, of production programs, and of the whole system of distribution, together with severe taxation to achieve a balanced budget. This would have required a discipline which would perhaps have been regarded as overheroic for Americans, although it was used in a limited way when they went to war a few years later; at any rate, the President studied and rejected it. He was a reluctant and inconsistent Keynesian in this matter until the program was several years old and was no longer so urgently necessary.The first $3,300 million in 1933 did something, together with successive appropriations of similar magnitude, but never enough. A national income of 75 or 80 billions achieved within a few years seemed magnificent after the 37 billions of Mr. Hoover’s last year. But what could have been done at any time only became apparent when war preparations began and the national income really rose, passing 150 billions, with no signs of strain whatever.

To the backward look, President Roosevelt and his New Deal have a pattern and a meaning which, in the midst of the maneuverings and compromises of the time, was often lost sight ofby everyone but President Roosevelt himself. Inconsistency did not bother him greatly, provided there was an advantage-even if only a slight one-for the policy he wanted. It did not worry him overmuch to live in turmoil. And the constant attacks to which he was subjected by the press, even if unpleasant, were rather favorable than otherwise for what he expected to accomplish. It did not decrease the confidence common folk had in him to have constantly on view the hatred borne their champion by those whom they mistrusted.

There were few who ever saw him with the mask of confidence removed. The gaiety of his laughter in time of fear echoed not only through the unaccustomed rooms of the White House, but symbolically in every home in the land. And if he was often uncertain, that was, as he said, because he was the quarterback of a team which had to be directed on the field, and it was not a fundamental uncertainty, only a tentativeness about tactic. There was necessarily improvisation, because there had been no planning. There would be failures. But the team would ultimately win. Its members might seem ill-assorted. They might be zealous to carry the ball over often; and they might even indulge in some sabotage, if they thought they could get away with it, in favor of friends or in their own political interest. But he was the captain as well as the quarterback. It was his game; and on the whole it was his victory. Looking back from the fourth year of life in America since his death, men know how much poorer they are without him. Perhaps one test of the New Deal’s worth was the great grief of common folk everywhere when the news of his death came to them so suddenly in April of 1945. They knew, even if more analytical critics did not, that they had lost a champion, even a friend. Their judgment must always temper that of objective historians.

The New Deal may have been a progressive interlude in an America predominantly reactionary. That still remains to be seen. The personality of Roosevelt, like that of Lincoln, who, in spite of superficial difference, he so much resembles, confuses the judgment. His maneuverings, his continual trading of what he thought were small advantages for what he thought were large ones, his ability to make the most incongruous assistants work together as a team, the fact that he had a scheme in mind (as can be seen by rereading the Campaign Speeches of 1932), and that he saw most of it carried outall this must be taken into account. He spent all his days in office working not only, as during the war, for his nation’s survival, but for the strengthening in it of those groups and forces which he judged to be needful, creative, democratic, tolerant and kindly. Whether and to what extent he succeeded will become clearer as time passes. It seems to me that we have gained some parity or balance among economic groups, that we approach clearer designs of what we must do, and that we have clearly established the minima of social security-and this was what Roosevelt meant by "New Deal." The critical judgment as to all these matters and as to others will no doubt become sharper and more rational; but those who have the advantage of distance and reflection will not have the memorial treasure of his presence. That, to those who knew him, will always be among the most precious of their possessions and the most illuminating of their guides.

[1] A Federal Trade Commission for fair trade practices; the Underwood Tariff Act, which reduced duties some ten per cent; an income tax to provide revenues lost by tariff reduction-a constitutional
amendment having now made the tax possible; and the Federal Reserve Act to decentralize the
"money power."

[2] That is, to bring the prices of farm products into such relationship with industrial goods that they
would buy as much as they had before the agricultural depression.

[3] Made permanent later in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

[4] There were businessmen running that show. The others were being managed by professors, editors, bureaucrats and social workers.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Tony. I learned something new.

    Odd that Tugwell's article never mentions Marriner Eccles, especially considering that it was Tugwell who "discovered" Eccles and brought him to Washington.

    1. Good point. Maybe by 1948 the New Dealers had grown weary of each other. Perhaps there was a Yoko breaking up the band ;-)