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Debate: The New Deal

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Was the American New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt a good idea?

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  • New Deal created historic public works and infrastructure. Michael Hiltzik. "What the new deal accomplished." Slate. Oct 13th, 2011: "The New Deal physically reshaped the country. To this day, Americans still rely on its works for transportation, electricity, flood control, housing, and community amenities. The output of one agency alone, the Works Progress Administration, represents a magnificent bequest to later generations. The WPA produced, among many other projects, 1,000 miles of new and rebuilt airport runways, 651,000 miles of highway, 124,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and 18,000 playgrounds and athletic fields; some 84,000 miles of drainage pipes, 69,000 highway light standards, and 125,000 public buildings built, rebuilt, or expanded. Among the latter were 41,300 schools. The transformative power of this effort is inestimable [...] PWA built or helped build monumental projects from sea to sea. In Washington State, Grand Coulee Dam put 8,000 men to work starting in 1933 and used materials and equipment from 46 of the 48 states. In Southern California, PWA helped repair or replace 536 school buildings damaged or destroyed by the great Long Beach earthquake of March 10, 1933. Most of them, rebuilt to the most exacting seismic standards of the time, are still in use at this writing. In Florida, the exemplary project was the Overseas Highway, 127 miles of causeways and bridges connecting the mainland and Key West, built on the remains of a railroad line destroyed by hurricane in 1935, and transforming the latter island from a dismal outback of dispossessed relief recipients to one of America’s premier tourist destinations."
  • New Deal demonstrated possibilities of government action. Michael Hiltzik. "What the new deal accomplished." Slate. Oct 13th, 2011: "we must consider Americans’ relationship with what is, after all, their government. The New Dealers did not think about government in the limited terms of their predecessors, as an agency of national defense and little else. They did not perceive it as an antagonist of the common man, an enemy of liberty, or an entity interested in its own growth for growth’s sake. They understood that it was a powerful force and that its power could be exercised by inaction as well as action, to very different ends. The condition of the American people when the New Dealers assumed office demanded ameliorative action, and this they strived to deliver. They did not invariably achieve their goals, but in appraising their performance it is important to acknowledge that the crisis they addressed was uniquely cataclysmic in American history, and that suitable precedent for addressing it simply did not exist."
  • New Deal's FDIC prevented bank runs. Michael Hiltzik. "What the new deal accomplished." Slate. Oct 13th, 2011: "Federal deposit insurance, by eliminating bank runs even in times of economic crisis, cut the number of bank failures from the peak of 4,000 in 1933 to nine the next year. Bank failures would not exceed 75 in any one year until the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s, and for a three-decade stretch beginning in 1943 never exceeded single figures. The importance of this record for depositor confidence and the safety of the nation’s monetary stock is incalculable."
  • New Deal's SEC gave transparency/confidence in financials Michael Hiltzik. "What the new deal accomplished." Slate. Oct 13th, 2011: "The reforms implemented under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which established the Securities and Exchange Commission, professionalized an industry burdened in the aftermath of 1929 with a reputation for insider transactions and sharp dealing. The transparency of financial reporting mandated by the act for public corporations and brokerages set the foundations for the explosive growth of the U.S. capital markets and corporate economy ever since."
  • New Deal initiated Social Security and collective responsibility. Michael Hiltzik. "What the new deal accomplished." Slate. Oct 13th, 2011: "The New Deal instilled in Americans an unshakable faith that their government stands ready to succor them in times of need. Put another way, the New Deal established the concept of economic security as a collective responsibility. As of this writing, Social Security, by any measure the outstanding domestic achievement of the Roosevelt administration, serves 54 million beneficiaries. Over the decades the program has kept many tens of millions of American workers and their families out of poverty. The promise of corporate pensions has largely disappeared from the employment contract and the investment markets have disappointed many workers’ expectations of comfortable retirements, but Social Security endures, providing retirees with benefits that grow with inflation and that cannot be outlived. Social Security began as an “awkward and insufficient” program, as Rexford Tugwell would observe; but it was expanded in succeeding decades, under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, in a continuing effort to uphold its original promise. Its 1960s addendum, Medicare, sprang organically from that promise."
  • The New Deal restored the Tennessee Valley. Michael Hiltzik. "What the new deal accomplished." Slate. Oct 13th, 2011: "The Tennessee Valley in 1933 was a quintessential backwoods region of 'grim drudgery, and grind' in the words of its savior George Norris: beleaguered by floods, drained of its manpower by the siren call of the cities, the latent wealth of its river and lumber left fallow. The TVA of Norris and Franklin Roosevelt turned it into a land of plenty that called its workers home, put its natural endowments to productive use, and delivered to its residents the promise of a secure American middle-class lifestyle."



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