After the adjournment of the historical special session of the Congress five weeks ago I purposely refrained from addressing you for two very good reasons.
First, I think that we all wanted the opportunity of a little quiet thought to examine and assimilate in a mental picture the crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal.
Secondly, I wanted a few weeks in which to set up the new administrative organization and to see the first fruits of our careful planning.
I think it will interest you if I set forth the fundamentals of this planning for national recovery; and this I am very certain will make it abundantly clear to you that all of the proposals and all of the legislation since the fourth day of March have not been just a collection of haphazard schemes but rather the orderly component parts of a connected and logical whole.
Long before Inauguration Day I became convinced that individual effort and local effort and even disjointed Federal effort had failed and of necessity would fail and, therefore, that a rounded leadership by the Federal Government had become a necessity both of theory and of fact. Such leadership, however, had its beginning in preserving and strengthening the credit of the United States Government, because without that no leadership was a possibility. For years the Government had not lived within its income. The immediate task was to bring our regular expenses within our revenues. That has been done. It may seem inconsistent for a government to cut down its regular expenses and at the same time to borrow and to spend billions for an emergency. But it is not inconsistent because a large portion of the emergency money has been paid out in the form of sound loans which will be repaid to the Treasury over a period of years; and to cover the rest of the emergency money we have imposed taxes to pay the interest and the installments on that part of the debt.
On a Sunday night a week after my Inauguration I used the radio to tell you about the banking crisis and the measures we were taking to meet it. I think that in that way I made clear to the country various facts that might otherwise have been misunderstood and in general provided a means of understanding which did much to restore confidence.
Tonight, eight weeks later, I come for the second time to give you my report — in the same spirit and by the same means to tell you about what we have been doing and what we are planning to do.
Two months ago we were facing serious problems. The country was dying by inches. It was dying because trade and commerce had declined to dangerously low levels; prices for basic commodities were such as to destroy the value of the assets of national institutions such as banks, savings banks, insurance companies, and others. These institutions, because of their great needs, were foreclosing mortgages, calling loans, refusing credit. Thus there was actually in process of destruction the property of millions of people who had borrowed money on that property in terms of dollars which had had an entirely different value from the level of March, 1933. That situation in that crisis did not call for any complicated consideration of economic panaceas or fancy plans. We were faced by a condition and not a theory.
A bag of books for two bucks, said the sign. Deflation has hit the little Connecticut country library used book sales I haunt each summer. Imagine what you can stuff into a big supermarket paper bag, and then cross-rough it with a run of terrific books – a book of Giotto’s frescoes, Graham Greene’s The Comedians, three P.D. James mysteries, George F. Kennan’s Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, a compilation of comic art propaganda that includes a study and pictures of Hansi: the Girl Who Loved the Swastika (the protagonist escapes Nazism by becoming a bride for Christ). All of these and A Guide to Thomas Aquinas.
All of these books bid for my affections, hoping for a quick conquest of my summer reading plans. Having laid hands on Robert Sherwood’s Hopkins and Roosevelt (1948) my fate was sealed. And fortunately for me, having spent as 3QD readers know the past two summers on first Hitler and then Stalin thanks to my library sales book buys.
What a delight to read the history of heroes once more. Sherwood tells the story of how Roosevelt and Hopkins, FDR’s alter ego insofar as he ever had one, battled the Great Depression and World War II together, with Hopkins the iron fist in Roosevelt’s velvet glove. The story is told with admiration and a beguiling humility. Though a successful playwright and a speechwriting White House denizen from 1940 onward, Sherwood never lost his awe of the two men, sharing intimate space and time with two persons who never shared their intimate thoughts with anyone.
97 ([New York State Takes the Lead in the Relief of the Unemployed. A Message Recommending Creation of Relief Administration.
To the Legislature (in Extraordinary Session):
What is the State? It is the duly constituted representative of an organized society of human beings, created by them for their mutual protection and well-belng. “The State“ or “The Government” is but the machinery through which such mutual aid and protection are achieved. The cave man fought for existence unaided or even opposed by his fellow man, but today the humblest citizen of our State stands protected by all the power and strength of his Government. Our Government is not the master but the creature of the people. The duty of the State toward the citizens is the duty of the servant to the master. The people have created it; the people, by common consent, permit its continual existence.
One of these duties of the State is that of caring for those of its citizens who ﬁnd themselves the victims of such adverse circumstances as makes them unable to obtain even the necessities for mere existence without the aid of others. That responsibility is recognized by every civilized Nation.
For example, from the earliest days of our own country the consciousness of the proper relationship between the State and the citizen resulted in the establishment of those often crude and unscientiﬁc but wholly necessary institutions known as the county poor houses.
“This nation asks for action, and action now.”
-Franklin Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
100 DAYS OF ACTION
March 9—June 16, 1933
March 9 Emergency Banking Act
March 20 Government Economy Act
April 19 Abandonment of the Gold Standard
May 27 Securities Act
June 5 Abrogation of Gold Payment Clause
June 13 Home Owners Loan Act
June 16 Glass-Steagall Banking Act
JOBS AND RELIEF
March 31 Creation of Civilian Conservation Corps
May 12 Federal Emergency Relief Act
June 16 National Industrial Recovery Act
June 16 Emergency Railroad Transportation Act
May 12 Agricultural Adjustment Act
May 12 Emergency Farm Mortgage Act
May 18 Tennessee Valley Authority Act
June 16 Farm Credit Act
I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking — with the comparatively few who understand the mechanics of banking but more particularly with the overwhelming majority who use banks for the making of deposits and the drawing of checks. I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be. I recognize that the many proclamations from State Capitols and from Washington, the legislation, the Treasury regulations, etc., couched for the most part in banking and legal terms should be explained for the benefit of the average citizen. I owe this in particular because of the fortitude and good temper with which everybody has accepted the inconvenience and hardships of the banking holiday. I know that when you understand what we in Washington have been about I shall continue to have your cooperation as fully as I have had your sympathy and help during the past week.
First of all let me state the simple fact that when you deposit money in a bank the bank does not put the money into a safe deposit vault. It invests your money in many different forms of credit-bonds, commercial paper, mortgages and many other kinds of loans. In other words, the bank puts your money to work to keep the wheels of industry and of agriculture turning around. A comparatively small part of the money you put into the bank is kept in currency — an amount which in normal times is wholly sufficient to cover the cash needs of the average citizen. In other words the total amount of all the currency in the country is only a small fraction of the total deposits in all of the banks.
When Gray Brechin decided several years ago to develop a catalog of thousands of New Deal projects built in the 1930s, one of his goals was to show how government could help Americans when it embraced a humanitarian ethos.
At the time, Brechin, a UC Berkeley geographer, could not have known how much his effort would be relevant to the debate being waged in America today over the extent to which government should aid the least fortunate among us when a growing gap divides the top 1 percent and the rest of us.
With his website catalog, Brechin offers a spectacular gift: Accompanied by thousands of photos, the website chronicles the schools, hospitals, courthouses, city halls, post offices, bridges, water systems, art works and other projects across America that owed their existence in whole or in part to New Deal projects carried out during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Brechin’s work is particularly powerful because most Americans, as academicians will tell you, tend to live very much in the now with only a minimal grasp of their country’s history and what it says about their nation’s future.
Ever since the New Deal’s National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and a brief flurry of public-spiritedness during the Kennedy years, America has minimized both expectations and opportunities for public service. Fewer Americans than at any time in our history — less than one half of 1 percent— are engaged in public service (including those serving in the military). Yet, the enormity of our country’s current challenges and chronic unemployment point to the need to give young people the chance to work helping their communities.
Here’s why we need a National Youth Service (NYS).
1. A NYS would be a job-creation program. Sure, it would be expensive, but 6.7 million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are out of work and out of school currently cost taxpayers $93 million per year.
2. A NYS would be an immediate and lasting stimulus to our economy. Requiring participants to send some of their pay home (as the CCC did of its recruits) would also help struggling families.
3. A NYS would have long-term benefits for both the individual and society. The youth would obtain marketable job skills through rebuilding infrastructure, installing green energy, restoring the environment and helping during natural disasters.
It may seem hard to believe, but back in the 1930s the Federal government put Americans to work who couldn’t find a job in the private sector. Imagine that, the government assisting the unemployed by providing them a job. Instead of giving them a handout, able bodied men and women out of work joined Federal programs such as the WPA (Works Progress Administration). The WPA was and still is considered to be one of the most successful New Deal programs, yet it’s largely forgotten today.
The WPA employed over 8 million Americans from 1935 to 1943 and pumped $11 billion into the economy($170 billion total/$19 billion each year by today’s standards). In the first year alone, the WPA employed over 3 million Americans on public works projects across the nation. In total, the WPA constructed 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, 651,000 miles of road and improved 800 airports.
In my last article, I explored the idea of Youth Social Security. Many said it was a good idea in theory but would be difficult to pay for. Sure, it would be difficult for us, the average American, to pay for. It’s well known that nearly 70% of income taxes are paid by the wealthiest Americans (keep in mind their rates have also steadily dropped over several decades); while almost half of those currently working don’t pay any income tax. However, has one ever considered that half of the country is too poor to pay? All the while, the shrinking middle class is wondering whether it will end up richer or poorer.