Brain Dropping #92
Roosevelt’s Baby. I was born on October 13, 1933 – a Roosevelt baby. At the same time I was a depression baby, born four years into the most severe economic collapse in the history of American capitalism: One in four workers were unemployed. Millions of families went without food and shelter. The unprecedented drought in the Mid-West and the Plains States created the catastrophic dust-bowl conditions dramatically chronicled by John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes Of Wrath.” My father, a furrier by trade, sold potatoes in the streets of Brooklyn from a horse drawn wagon. Roosevelt was inaugurated in March 1933, I was born six months later at Beth-El hospital in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
To many it was Armageddon for capitalism – the “end of days!” But in four years Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned things around. And just in case you weren’t paying attention in your American history class, or have forgotten, allow me to refresh your memory.
What did Roosevelt do? – He created the Social Security system. – He established the Unemployment Compensation system. – Between 1934 and 1941 he created twelve and a half million jobs through programs like the Works Project Administration, the Civil Conservation Corps, and the Federal Art Project among others. (If you’ve ever driven north from N.Y.C. along the picturesque Taconic Parkway with its beautiful stone overpasses, thank the C.C.C.)
With the start of WWII, the federal government pouring money into the war effort to defeat the Axis – Japan, Germany and Italy- decisively ended the depression. Almost literally half the unemployed went into the armed services, and the other half went into the war production plants.
To begin with, in 1933, how did Roosevelt find the money to do all this? Just as now, everybody in the establishment was crying poverty. But there was money and Roosevelt knew how to get it. (There’s far more money now but Obama doesn’t have the same courage to get it.) Roosevelt gathered the wealthiest people in the nation and the heads of corporations and demanded that they contribute generously to these programs. Why would these fat-cats and the Congress agree to such demands? Roosevelt pointed out that millions in the populace had mobilized into militant trade unions like the AFLCIO, Socialist and Communist parties and were on the march to feed their families. If the capitalist system was to survive the monied class had to ante up – and at least half of them did so. Roosevelt also brazenly proposed a $25,000 dollar cap on income (about 350,000 in today’s dollars.) What he did get was a 94% marginal rate income tax. For every dollar above $200,000 in income the government got ninety-four cents the taxpayer six cents. Now perhaps you’ll understand why Roosevelt was considered to be “a traitor to his class!”
To prevent risky speculation from the banks, Roosevelt rammed the Banking Reform Act through Congress. It placed a firewall between depository or commercial banks and riskier investment bank activity. It was also known as Glass/Steagall. It became very well known in its demise, when the Gramm, Leach, Bliley Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1999, killed it. Eight years later we had the bank failures.
In the years after Roosevelt’s death in April, 1945, I’ve seen played out the betrayal of the New Deal by the political elite succumbing to corruption and bribery by the monied class, and the paranoia of the Cold War.
What now then? How about another Roosevelt, Baby !? Seriously, we need the help of the World’s most capable turnaround artist. Will we find their name on the ballot in 2016?