Saturday, July 23, 2011

By Necessity


FDR reassuring the people
during Fireside talk. 

I wouldn’t dare inflict history lessons on you would I? Of course, I wouldn’t! I do understand that there is a popular opinion that history is a useless study and that what is over is over and we should focus on moving forward.

Yet there comes a time when you wonder “Wot happened?” Then you may take a moment to look back. That’s what last year’s political turmoil did for me.

We know, or should know, that our nation was founded by hard working people with ambitions of bettering themselves and being free of laws that hindered their rights. When unreasonable restriction followed them to their new world, they fought and died to maintain those rights and upon winning that war, highly intelligent and fair-minded men devised a system of government in our Constitution to assure that the beliefs that had been fought for would continue to rule the nation.

The country grew and with growth came changes. The pre-depression days were far from perfect.  The poverty of many people was severe. The abuses in the workplace, especially of women and children, were terrible. Corruption among the powerful and in the government was commonplace and despite our ancestor’s dreams and skillful framing of our method of government, our society had become a sad reflection of those original dreams.

The stock market crash of ’29 and the following Great Depression capped a period of opportunity for many and misery for some and with at least 13 million workers unemployed it was a  time of desperation for most of the nation. President Hoover’s policies were blamed; his failure to correct the situation was cursed and a new President was duly elected.

As mentioned in a previous blog, FDR’s first 100 days were busy ones as he used his great political skills to create programs to get our country on the move again.  All were created to boost the country out of its deep depression and to remedy many other destructive problems that had developed. These laws and regulations were spoken of as “the first New Deal. At that time, the words, “New Deal,” were often spoken in the same tone of voice as some of the worst of curse words. Some of today’s programs suffer the same fate.

Regardless of opposition, President Roosevelt moved forward with his agenda, In addition to the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Public Work Program, the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act was created and was of great benefit to the large number of farmers who had loss their farms in foreclosures after the stock market crash.  Under the Farm Act, only small down payments were required to purchase a farm, and if the entire bi-annual payment could not be made, the smaller amount of interest due was accepted, postponing the payment on the principal. Under this program many families who had been eking out a living as tenant farmers, were able to make a fresh start with farms of their own, although farm life remained hard and many mortgages were not paid off until WWII.
Besides the previously discussed programs, the Tennessee Valley Authority  (TVA) was created, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were created, all programs that are beneficial today.

In 1935, after the economy had begun to recover, our beleaguered Social Security program came into being under Roosevelt’s  “Second New Deal “ which covered many areas such as labor, women in the work force, the arts and many others.

Social Security or Old-Age and Survivor’s Insurance (OASI) came into being at this time with a carefully planned system, calculated to make it self-supportive with its trust fund.  According to charts, its fund showed its first deficit in 1975. There are interesting charts and graphs showing the income and outgo of the program over the years and many versions of the outcome, some frightening, some reassuring. It is a political hot topic because it affects everyone.

Over the years, there have been numerous changes in the government’s accounting procedures, giving rise to a few erroneous tales about Social Security. However, it appears that it is true that the government is allowed to borrow from the fund, backing its debt with Treasury notes and bonds. Then, when there is a need, the government honors its bonds and the fund is again viable. I am sure there are a variety of opinions on the feasibility of this arrangement.

There is no denying that the Social Security program has been a great benefit to thousands of elderly parents and grandparents. That also translates in to being beneficial to their offspring who would have otherwise been bearing the burden of their care.

There were numerous other helpful programs for the nation’s suffering citizens Surplus food and subsidies made nutritious school lunches available for five cents each and surplus food was made available for the public. Other practically unknown programs assisted the needy populace. One, for high school students, paid for various jobs, such as janitorial or library duty, within the schools. I had library duty and that small dollar amount on my government check looked rather large in those days.

President Roosevelt had many ambitious plans for helping the country recover. Some were declared unconstitutional, some were discontinued when WWII broke out, and wrangling and jealousies within the administration destroyed some.

CCC history pamphlets state that infighting among a few of Roosevelt’s cabinet members that signaled that program’s end. Another program, the National Recovery Act, or NRA, placed a certain amount of price and wage control over businesses and those participating displayed a NRA symbol of a blue eagle in their windows.  I remember seeing these signs displayed in store windows, for not to show that the store was participating, brought a risk of being boycotted. This law was one that was ruled unconstitutional. Many citizens claimed this symbol signified evil and was a “sign of the devil.”  I seem to remember that some folks felt it had something to do with biblical predictions. That was long ago, early in FDR’s administration and I was rather young.

Other programs that were disliked intensely were created in hope of raising and stabilizing prices for agricultural products. They placed controls over the amount of acreage planted in various crops thus causing many acres to lay barren.  Especially disliked was the slaughtering of cattle and the law that the meat had to be destroyed. With people starving throughout the country, this and the plowing under of crops were contrary to all that farmers and cattlemen believed in but they dutifully obeyed the law.

Undoubtedly, there were long titles and initialed acronyms for dozens of addition acts, but those discussed here are the most memorable and perhaps the most noteworthy and beneficial ones of the FDR administrations.

Roosevelt’s policies are still being debated and the effects of many of them still linger. At the time they were generally extremely helpful for our troubled nation but there is little doubt that this period can be considered the beginning of many, sometimes unwelcome, government controls.

      More to come after we all rest.