|The New Deal—Helpful or Hurtful?
After his inauguration in March 1933, Roosevelt moved quickly to implement the “New Deal.” What followed was an avalanche of “alphabet soup” agencies and acts to combat the effects of the Great Depression. Each agency or law was designed to either help relieve, recover, or reform the country. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) attempted to give work in forested areas to young men who had been without work. The Agriculture Adjustment Administration (AAA) tried to deal with the surpluses of farmers. To aid in creating such bills and to pressure Congress to pass these bills, FDR turned to the Democratic Party veterans plus a “brain trust” of intellectuals and college professors. From their minds came, among other things, the National Recovery Administration (NRA), Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and Social Security. Good or bad, the idea that “something must be done” influenced the New Deal from 1933 through 1936 and public confidence increased. The effects of the Great Depression seemed to lessen.
Not all Americans agreed with Roosevelt’s New Deal. Critics of FDR’s New Deal attacked the administration’s methods. To many critics, the New Deal was socialistic, even communistic. The government was way too involved in the economy through regulation. Agricultural prices actually rose during this time. Through the NRA, some industries set prices. Many felt the economy should run itself naturally.
Some believed that recently defeated President Hoover was correct in believing that the “rugged individualism” of its people should solve America’s problems, as it had always done. Tough people will manage their difficulties. Some New Deal acts, like the Social Security Act, may hurt the desire of Americans to work. Too much involvement of the government could destroy people’s ability to take care of themselves and American self-reliance would suffer as a result.
Other critics focused their anger not on the socialistic New Deal programs but on the president himself. They stressed that he was the one who had gained the most from the intrusion of big government spending and power politics. Roosevelt, quite simply, was becoming a dictator. They felt that the New Deal was unconstitutional. Roosevelt had stretched the Constitution too far, instead of following it.
Other critics focused upon the economic realities of the New Deal. The New Deal required deficit spending or spending money the government did not have. Like the rest of the nation, the United States was not raising enough money to pay for these programs. Future generations would have to pay for them. Despite all of the programs and all of the spending of the New Deal, it did not end the Great Depression or unemployment. By 1937, there were still 7.5 million unemployed Americans and businesses still suffered.
While the critics hounded FDR’s actions, FDR had legions of supporters. Among their beliefs was the idea that FDR was working within the economic system to save it, not destroy it. He was willing to do different things to help the American people and the American people needed it. He had found ways to offer immediate assistance to the needy. The CCC and WPA had employed over 5 million people. FERA had given out millions in direct assistance. Income levels of farmers and workers rose. He had added money to the economy through public works, while updating the infrastructure of the Untied States.
They felt Roosevelt had stretched the Constitution to fit the needs of the times. After all, the founding fathers could not have predicted the economic problems of the Great Depression. The New Deal programs were not socialistic, illegal, or unconstitutional. They were merely extensions of ideas already part of the American system. At worst, the New Deal stretched the Constitution, much the same way that Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson had stretched the great document to meet difficult times and situations. Additionally, FDR was no power-hungry politician. He had worked with the diverse members of his brain trust to create New Deal ideas. He worked with Congress to pass these laws. In the end, Congress held the purse strings and helped to decide if the New Deal programs were worth the cost.
Supporters also argued that the New Deal had done a lot to end the problems that had caused the Great Depression. Banks were now stable. In large part, this was due to the Emergency Banking Act and the creation of the FDIC which helped Americans trust banks more. The SEC supervised the running of the Stock Market to avoid problems that had led to the stock market crash. The Social Security Act helped avoid intense poverty for disabled, the elderly, the unemployed, and families with children. In the end, the entire New Deal brought back optimism to the American people and hope for its future.
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