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Monday, November 14, 2011

James Miller Center: FDR Fireside Chat 7: On the Social Security Act- The History of Social Security

When Franklin Roosevelt became President of the United States in 1933, he had a mountain of challenges in front of him that he had to face. Dwarfing anything that President Obama inherited in 2009. The Great Depression was just starting and the country had at the time nothing to deal with it. No plan to get out of it and no safety net other than private charity to help sustain people as they go through it. These challenges were so big that it wasn't until World War II almost ten years later that America recovered from the Great Depression. Which is why President Roosevelt and others developed the New Deal and other legislation to deal with the Great Depression. And to establish a safety net in America.

Like Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and Welfare Insurance. Insurance programs that people can turn to when they can't support themselves. President Roosevelt brought economic progressivism into law in America. Something that we had very little of in America before that. We certainly didn't have a welfare state or even a safety net prior to the New Deal. We were basically an economic libertarian society before that, where everyone was on their own. And of course a lot if not most Libertarians would like to see us move back to that libertarian society. Where all Americans are responsible for taking care of themselves whether they are able to or not. Whether they have access to a pension or not, lose their job, makes mistakes early in life. Like having kids before they are ready to take care of them, etc.

Now I disagree with how a lot of these programs were designed originally. I believe most Americans would reform these programs in some way. Progressives would expand them, Liberals such as myself would decentralize them and turn them over to the states. Presidential candidate Gary Johnson has a plan to do that. Conservatives would privatize them all together and Libertarians would end them calling them unconstitutional. But what the New Deal and later Great Society in the 1960s, did was at least provide a basic floor for people to turn to. When for whatever reason they weren't able to fend for themselves and has been successful in doing that.

All of these programs need to be reformed in the financing like a lot the programs in the Federal Government. They didn't get us out of the Great Depression, at least on their own. World War II did most of the work on that, but the New Deal did for the first time in America, provide us with a basic safety net for the country. But a lot of these programs seventy-five plus years after they were created, need to be reformed. Because of how they were designed and need to be reformed to save them so they are there in the future. Part of President Roosevelt's legacy is that he transformed America into a country where we were basically on our own, into a country where at least to a certain extent we look after each other. Whether we want to or not, as Libertarians might phrase that. But the New Deal is not responsible for getting us out of the Great Depression. World War II and our involvement had a lot to do with that.