Category Archives: New Deal

The Fate of the New Deal

Gabriel Milner | December 18 2016 | Living New Deal

Will the New Deal fare a Trump presidency? © 1996-2016 Scholastic Inc. All Rights Reserved. Source

One of the many unknowns of Donald Trump’s impending presidency is the fate of America’s New Deal legacy. Last Tuesday, Newt Gingrich spoke before the Heritage Foundation in a wide-ranging speech celebrating Trump’s victory and the social, economic, and cultural changes it seemed to auger.

Gingrich’s speech centered on his vision of an America gutted of New Deal programs, not to mention ideals. As Ian Millhiser writes for ThinkProgress, the former Speaker of the House exclaimed, “this is the third great effort to break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model.” He pontificated that if a Trump presidency is followed by another Republican administration, the “FDR model” would be done for. Ambitious infrastructural projects promised by the president-elect may resemble New Deal efforts, but would likely have little in common with the mass job generating, civic minded public works of the New Deal.  And, no doubt, the liberal social programs that went along with them will have little place in any new iteration of government stimulus projects.

Gingrich may be more of a spiritual advisor to Trump than anything else. Still, as Millhiser notes, “Early signs suggest that Gingrich’s predictions that Roosevelt’s legacy could be undone should be taken seriously. Republicans in the House hope to cut Social Security benefits by 20–50 percent. [House] Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to voucherize Medicare would drive up out-of-pocket costs for seniors by about 40 percent. Then he’d cut Medicaid by between a third and a half.” And despite Trump’s campaign promises to protect the social safety net, his recent cabinet choices suggest that his agenda will align with that of Speaker Ryan.

America appears to be far, far away from the kind of new New Deal that those who remember President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy have envisioned for the country


Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University

“Everything Possible” The New Deal Response to Polio

by Gray Brechin, Ph.D.
Published September 12, 2014 at The Living New Deal

Free Photo of President Franklin Roosevelt In His Wheelchair, 1941
FDR at Hyde Park, New York 1941 – A rare photograph of FDR in his wheelchair

More than fifty years before the passage of the Americans With Disability Act, the WPA and PWA were building special schools to help children crippled by polio. These schools were, to a large extent, the result of FDR’s own paralysis from the disease.

In 1921 Franklin D. Roosevelt became permanently paralyzed from the waist down.  Most Americans knew that their president had contracted “infantile paralysis” in adulthood, but few knew the extent of his disability. The White House carefully orchestrated a vigorous image of the president. Photographs of FDR almost never capture him in his wheelchair or on crutches. FDR could stand with the help of braces and a cane, on the arm of a family or staff member, but it’s said that a bodyguard would carry the president up a rear stairwell slung over his shoulder like a sack of flour.

Billboard: A campaign in the fight against polio

Roosevelt helped to found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938 which later became the March of Dimes. Rather than soliciting large gifts from wealthy philanthropists it sought small donations. Millions of people contributed. Every year, on January 30, the President’s birthday, dances were held to raise funds to help victims of the scourge as well as to defeat it. The organization raised more funds than all of the U.S. charities at the time combined, with the exception of the Red Cross. Its efforts funded research that led to the development of polio vaccines.

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by Nick Taylor in 2009, author of American Made

Let’s get back to work on roads and bridges

Infrastructure’s a clunky word, but it’s important. It means fixing things, and that means jobs. The WPA blazed the trail back in the 1930s when unemployment was sky-high. FDR had to fight conservatives who didn’t want to spend the money. But WPA workers rebuilt the country and their paychecks stimulated the economy. Obama’s got a new plan to do some infrastructure work, but the conservatives are against him, too. I’m a fan. Let’s get behind him on this. Here are some highlights of what he proposed today:

The President’s infrastructure plan calls for a Rebuild America Partnership that will attract private capital to build the infrastructure our businesses need most. By acting on the President’s plan, together we can prove that there is no better place to do business and create jobs than right here in the United States of America.

Investing in a “fix-it-first” policy: The President’s plan will immediately invest $50 billion in our nation’s transportation infrastructure, with $40 billion targeted to the most urgent upgrades and focused on fixing our highways, bridges, transit systems, and airports most in need of repair.



Delivered Sunday, September 30, 1934 

imagesThree months have passed since I talked with you shortly after the adjournment of the Congress. Tonight I continue that report, though, because of the shortness of time, I must defer a number of subjects to a later date.

Recently the most notable public questions that have concerned us all have had to do with industry and labor and with respect to these, certain developments have taken place which I consider of importance. I am happy to report that after years of uncertainty, culminating in the collapse of the spring of 1933, we are bringing order out of the old chaos with a greater certainty of the employment of labor at a reasonable wage and of more business at a fair profit. These governmental and industrial developments hold promise of new achievements for the nation.

Men may differ as to the particular form of governmental activity with respect to industry and business, but nearly all are agreed that private enterprise in times such as these cannot be left without assistance and without reasonable safeguards lest it destroy not only itself but also our processes of civilization. The underlying necessity for such activity is indeed as strong now as it was years ago when Elihu Root said the following very significant words:

“Instead of the give and take of free individual contract, the tremendous power of organization has combined great aggregations of capital in enormous industrial establishments working through vast agencies of commerce and employing great masses of men in movements of production and transportation and trade, so great in the mass that each individual concerned in them is quite helpless by himself. The relations between the employer and the employed, between the owners of aggregated capital and the units of organized labor, between the small producer, the small trader, the consumer, and the great transporting and manufacturing and distributing agencies, all present new questions for the solution of which the old reliance upon the free action of individual wills appear quite inadequate. And in many directions, the intervention of that organized control which we call government seems necessary to produce the same result of justice and right conduct which obtained through the attrition of individuals before the new conditions arose.”



Delivered Thursday June 28, 1934

radio-show-11It has been several months since I have talked with you concerning the problems of government. Since January, those of us in whom you have vested responsibility have been engaged in the fulfillment of plans and policies which had been widely discussed in previous months. It seemed to us our duty not only to make the right path clear but also to tread that path.

As we review the achievements of this session of the Seventy-third Congress, it is made increasingly clear that its task was essentially that of completing and fortifying the work it had begun in March, l933. That was no easy task, but the Congress was equal to it. It has been well said that while there were a few exceptions, this Congress displayed a greater freedom from mere partisanship than any other peace-time Congress since the Administration of President Washington himself. The session was distinguished by the extent and variety of legislation enacted and by the intelligence and good will of debate upon these measures.


Frances Perkins’ Speech: The Roots of Social Security

From Senior Women Web   

(Note: the link to the audio files of Frances Perkins’ speech is near the bottom of this article; the entire speech is about 78 minutes long in 4 parts)

I must say I feel very much at home even though I just arrived. I feel at home because the Social Security Administration has, ever since it was established, been a sort of special concern of mine, although by the chicanery of politics it was not placed in the Department of Labor. I, of course, thought it should be.

FcperkinsAs a matter of fact, one of the reasons I feel so deeply involved with the Social Security Administration is that even though it was not in the Department of Labor when it was first established, the Department of Labor had to carry it the way you carry a dependent child. It didn’t have any money. That was so unfortunate. And we didn’t have very much either. But [what] we did, however, was to provide the Social Security Administration with offices in the Department of Labor Building. I even gave to the Chairman of the Social Security Board (as it was called in those days) the large, handsome, red-upholstered, high-back chair out of my own office so that he could look like a king. I didn’t have to keep on looking like a queen. I found the chair somewhat uncomfortable so I made the sacrifice.

The whole Department did the same kind of thing. We gave them our best statisticians. We gave them the best of everything including Arthur Altmeyer, who was the Assistant Secretary of Labor and my real right hand, and without whom I felt very lost. It showed that we put our best people in there on loan, and we carried it for the first year and made it look like a going concern. In fact, it became a going concern in an extraordinarily short time.

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Delivered October 22, 1933

listen_to_radio_10It is three months since I have talked with the people of this country about our national problems; but during this period many things have happened, and I am glad to say that the major part of them have greatly helped the well-being of the average citizens. Because, in every step which your Government is taking we are thinking in terms of the average of you — in the old words, “the greatest good to the greatest number” — we, as reasonable people, cannot expect to bring definite benefits to every person or to every occupation or business, or industry or agriculture. In the same way, no reasonable person can expect that in this short space of time, during which new machinery had to be not only put to work, but first set up, that every locality in every one of the 48 states of the country could share equally and simultaneously in the trend to better times.

The whole picture, however — the average of the whole territory from coast to coast — the average of the whole population of 120,000,000 people — shows to any person willing to look, facts and action of which you and I can be proud.

In the early spring of this year there were actually and proportionately more people out of work in this country than in any other nation in the world. Fair estimates showed 12 or 13 millions unemployed last March. Among those there were, of course, several millions who could be classed as normally unemployed — people who worked occasionally when they felt like it, and others who preferred not to work at all. It seems, therefore, fair to say that there were about 10 millions of our citizens who earnestly, and in many cases hungrily, were seeking work and could not get it. Of these, in the short space of a few months, I am convinced that at least 4 millions have been given employment — or, saying it another way, 40% of those seeking work have found it.

That does not mean, my friends, that I am satisfied, or that you are satisfied that our work is ended. We have a long way to go but we are on the way.


TVA: From the New Deal to a New Century



The Tennessee Valley Authority is the nation’s largest public power provider and a corporation of the U.S. government. TVA was established by Congress in 1933 to address a wide range of environmental, economic, and technological issues, including the delivery of low-cost electricity and the management of natural resources. TVA’s power service territory includes most of Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia, covering 80,000 square miles and serving more than 9 million people. TVA sells electricity to 155 power distributor customers and 56 directly served industries and federal facilities.

Initially, federal appropriations funded all TVA operations. Appropriations for the TVA power program ended in 1959, and appropriations for TVA’s environmental stewardship and economic development activities were phased out by 1999. TVA is now fully self-financing, funding operations primarily through electricity sales and power system financings.

A short history of TVA

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the TVA Act on May 18, 1933. The president is surrounded by various members of Congress from the TVA region, and at his left shoulder is Senator George Norris of Nebraska, after whom Norris Dam is named.

President Franklin Roosevelt needed innovative solutions if the New Deal was to lift the nation out of the depths of the Great Depression, and TVA was one of his most innovative ideas. Roosevelt envisioned TVA as a totally different kind of agency. He asked Congress to create “a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise.” On May 18, 1933, Congress passed the TVA Act.

From the start, TVA established a unique problem-solving approach to fulfilling its mission: integrated resource management. Each issue TVA faced — whether it was power production, navigation, flood control, malaria prevention, reforestation, or erosion control — was studied in its broadest context. TVA weighed each issue in relation to the whole picture.

From this beginning, TVA has held fast to its strategy of integrated solutions, even as the issues changed over the years.


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Harry Hopkins: Address at WPA Luncheon

Harry Hopkins, Address on federal relief delivered at a WPA luncheon (September 19, 1936). From “Address at WPA Luncheon,” Harry L. Hopkins Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.

Harry_Hopkins_FDR[Hopkins served as the first director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in 1933, the Civil Works Administration, and then the Works Progress Administration in 1935. This speech is a public defense of New Deal programs and a statement of Hopkins’s ideas about relief more broadly.]

…I gained six pounds this summer and am looking pretty well after all the things people have called me, and the reason is I don’t worry any more. A fellow told me the story about the eighteen year old girl that had her first date. Her father sent for her and told her there were certain things she should know. “This young fellow is very apt to hold your hand, and daughter, that is all right. Then he will want to put his arm around you, and that is all right. Then he will want you to put your head on his shoulder — you must not do that because your mother will worry.” So the young girl went out and the next morning her father asked her how the evening had gone. She replied, “Well, Dad, everything happened just as you said it would, he held my hand, then he put his arm around me, then he wanted me to put my head on his shoulder, but I said, ‘Hell no!’ — you put your head on my shoulder and let your mother worry.'”…

Continue reading Harry Hopkins: Address at WPA Luncheon