Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Woman Behind The New Deal

Barkley Rosser, Econospeak, The Woman Behind The New Deal, March 16, 2021

I was long aware that Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, namely Secretary of Labor for Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which position she was one of the two people to serve in their position all the way through his presidency, the other being Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Somehow I never heard that much about her, but an article in yesterday’s WaPo’s Retropolis section, “The woman who helped FDR change America in 100 days” proved a real eye-opener on several fronts.  While some of the previously hidden material had been public since the 2009 bio by Kirsten Downey, which bears the title I have used for this post, it seems to be getting fresh publicity now due to this being Biden’s first 100 days, and some people are comparing him to FDR, which can be questioned, but anyway I have now learned about this important and fascinating woman.

It should not be surprising that FDR’s Secretary of Labor would play an important role in many of the important initiatives, but in fact her influence went well beyond those obvious issues.  Indeed, while largely remaining as out of the scene as she could manage, she was a or the key player in many of the most important parts of the New Deal.  These include Social Security in 1935 and in 1933 the 40 hour week, limits on child labor, and the minimum wage. and from the first 100 days the Civilian Conservation Corps and a major expansion of employment-increasing public works spending. While she was less successful with this, during WW II she was one of the leading people trying to get the administration to allow more Jewish refugees to enter the US. She got in trouble with the HUAC in Congress in 1939 for blocking the deportation of portworker organizer Harry Bridges, who was accused of being a Communist.  

$1 trillion to be spent on direct hiring…that’s the ticket!

With all this stalemate posturing in Washington, today Chris Hayes has come up with the best idea I have heard yet to move the players. And, in my opinion actually solve our economic depression.

One trillion dollars to be spent on direct hiring by the government along with debt forgiveness.  A solution right out of the New Deal program. Unfortunately for Chris, Obama does not have the language within his vocabulary to recognize such an approach and thus in Obama’s own words: “…put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.”
In fact, not only does he not have the language within his vocabulary to recognize a solution from history, he thinks the 60’s and 70’s were full of excesses (while noting Kennedy moved the nation in a new direction…right into the excesses of the 60’s?)*

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Do you think anyone who remembers what it meant to be a leader in the Democratic Party was watching?  
*“I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.”
“He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s, and government had grown and grown, but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people just tapped into — he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”  
Don’t get me going on the people wanting “clarity” (security state that even the congress can’t get info on) and “optimism” (the audacity!).

Galbraith: Unemployment Statistics Of The New Deal Era

by Bruce Webb
A little antidote to Amity Shlaes and the other New Deal Deniers. From TPM Cafe J.K. Galbraith introduces Marshall Auerback

The view that the New Deal was too small and accomplished little, that only WWII ended the Depression, is very widely held. But it is not correct. It is based on a mis-reading of reconstructed unemployment statistics from that time, which treat the workers actually employed by the New Deal as though they were unemployed. Which they were not.

In fact, the New Deal accomplished a huge amount, both in specific construction projects and in providing employment to the American people.

I am going to turn over my microphone, not for the first time, to Marshall Auerback, and quote at great length from his paper entitled “A New New Deal.” Those wishing to get the whole paper should contact Marshall at

While Galbraith has permission to cite this paper at length I don’t know that I do. But I do know the topic is of extreme importance in light of the Republicans’ clear plan to sabotage the stimulus package in favor of tried (I mean tired) and true tax cuts on capital.
Link to extract from Auerbach Unemployment Statistics Of The New Deal Era I thought the following was particularly interesting

Even pro-Roosevelt historians such as William Leuchtenburg and Doris Kearns Goodwin have meekly accepted that the millions of people in the New Deal workfare programs were unemployed, while comparable millions of Germans and Japanese, and eventually French and British, who were dragooned into the armed forces and defense production industries in the mid-and late 1930s, were considered to be employed.

Forced by Hitler to build tanks and bombs? Gainfully employed. Asked by Roosevelt to build parks and schools? Makework slacker who is certainly not ’employed’. Now THAT is a perverse use of statistics.