Going Back in Time: A Progressive Economic Vision (from 1944)

By Blueberry Tart

Following up on the economic theme that I posted on this past week (here and here), I hopped into my time machine and went in search of a progressive message that would set forth a reasonable, clear and strong message as counterpoint to the prevailing conservative politico-economic themes that I had explored in those posts. I could have stopped at the New Frontier or the Great Society, but went farther back in time to the 1944 State of the Union speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Roosevelt set forth an “Economic Bill of Rights” that many of us, ranging from progressives to the middle, could still look to, 67 years later, for inspiration and guidance.

Ironically, the conservatives’ attacks on the progressive economics so often invoke fear of how the country — the world — is going to hell in a handbasket, and remind us that we have everything to fear, including fear itself. Yet certainly the peril we face today, while real, does not compare to the Great Depression or World War II – the era of Roosevelt’s presidency. Nevertheless, Roosevelt, while still in the midst of the war, turned his attention to setting forth a doctrine of economic fairness that remains applicable (with the explicit addition of women) today.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The Economic Bill of Rights”

Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to Congress on the State of the Union

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.”

I imagine that, if Roosevelt could have looked forward to today, he would have added “the right of workers to unionize and bargain collectively” (perhaps he assumed it was already established) and further protections of women workers, including access to safe and affordable child care.

As I mentioned in my first post on this topic, I believe that there is a clear conservative strategy (I would be tempted to call it the “Conservative Manifesto”) that is at the root of the politico-economic trends that are becoming all the more apparent with time – indeed, right-wingers like Scott Walker are now so emboldened that they shout their anti-worker slogans with arrogance and bravado.

But Walker and others are overplaying their hand. Their extremism is so blatant that a lot of people, who normally wouldn’t be paying attention, can see it for what it is. Much credit to the brave and persistent protesters! This presents an opportunity to reclaim the high ground in the public debate.

I believe that if progressives are to gain the public’s (middle’s) attention and support, one of the things we need to do is to counter the right-wing extremists with a set of principles and message that are fair, reasonable, clear and inspiring. Recognizing that the world has changed and the economy is global, I still think that Roosevelt’s words are a possible starting place. Let’s start talking about “The Economic Bill of Rights.”

There were several excellent links since the economics post. First, with H/T to Maria Maria, check out this post by economics professor Richard Wolff on “How the Rich Soaked the Rest of Us.” Here is one of his graphs:

Yep, the top 1% is really in need of protection, eh? Honestly, we MUST get this message about the growing chasm of wealth inequity to be seen far and wide! It is ABSURD that we cannot gain the political will to tax this income group.

Here is Krugman again on “How to kill a recovery.” Richard Reich weighed in on how the Democrats can become relevant again.

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