How Roosevelt Harnessed the Great Depression

We recently came across an excellent series of articles on the New Deal by an old friend, historian Phil Scranton of Rutger University-Camden, written for a series called Echoes run by Bloomberg News.  The latest is How Roosevelt Harnessed Economic Recovery, and there are others on How Public Power Jump Started The New Deal and The CCC: Creating Jobs, Restoring Nature, which we liked so much we have included in our own archive. (Unfortunately, Bloomberg just cancelled the Echoes series — too much truth to handle?)

New Deal Art Registry Merger

The New Deal Art Registry, a rich trove of photographs and documents, is merging with the Living New Deal, adding some 1,500 new sites to our database and national map.  The Art Registry is the work of Barbara and John Bernstein of San Francisco, who accumulated this magnificent archive of  New Deal murals and artworks over several years, but realized that the Living New Deal had the resources and technical staff to keep up with their ever-growing collection of on-line material.

On our side, it took many weeks of work by our IT specialist, Ben Hass, to make the Art Registry data compatible with our system, and it will take several more weeks for our research assistant, John Elrick, to comb through the sites to double-check everything.  As he does so, visitors to our website will see the number of New Deal sites growing rapidly — soon to send us over 5,000!

We welcome Barbara Bernstein to the Living New Deal team in the Bay Area and we encourage everyone to find and photograph New Deal murals near you, and to send them in to us!  And make sure that your city or town recognizes the value of these wonderful artworks created for the pleasure and edification of the public.

Federal Appeals Court Restricts Workers’ Rights


One of the pillars of the New Deal, the National Labor Relations Act (aka the Wagner Act) gave American workers the right to organize in most workplaces. Prior to 1935 employers had free rein to prevent workers from forming unions. Bitterly opposed by the Republican Party and Big Business, the new law set off an explosion of unionization in the 1930s and 40s that, in turn, formed the basis for the postwar prosperity of working families—also known as the Great American Middle Class.

Under the NLRA it became illegal for an employer to punish organizers for trying to form a union (though they often do).  In unionized workplaces, the law requires employers and unions to bargain in good faith (though they often do not). Yet, while workers have these rights under the NLRA, under a recent court ruling, they don’t have the right to be informed of them.

Recently, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals knocked down an attempt by the National Labor Relations Board to rectify a long-standing loophole in the original law. The Board had issued a new ruling that would require employees’ rights to be posted in the workplace, just as minimum wage, health, and safety rules must be posted.

The court, considered the most important in the country after the Supreme Court because it decides cases on government policy and regulation, thought otherwise. Bowing to powerful interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it overturned the Board’s ruling.  Apparently such posters would interfere with the smooth operation of business.

The court’s stance is no surprise, given that its judges are largely holdovers of the Bush Administration. Thanks to Republicans obstructing President Obama’s judicial appointments in the U.S. Senate, only one new judge has been approved to serve on the D.C. Court despite several vacancies.

This is just the latest in a series of attacks on the NLRA going back to the Reagan Administration. Conservative appointments and court rulings have hamstrung the NLRB, which itself is weakened from vacancies, further undermining the labor movement. Presently, the Board does not even have a quorum because of Republican and business opposition, and a failed effort by Obama to do an end-run around the Senate by making recess appointments.

Download NLRA Employee Rights PDF

The Shrinking Deficit & The Stagnant Economy

Herbert Hoover would be pleased by the New Austerity budget of the Federal government, thanks to the Sequester.  But massive budget cuts are not just trouble for air traffic and poor seniors on Medicaid, they are terrible fiscal policy.  Washington is taking the country down the wrong road.

Don’t be fooled by the stock market run-up, because profits may be good, but growth is mediocre — this is still the worst (slowest) recovery from a major recession on record. And stock gains don’t do anything for the working people, since only  the top 20% own 95% of stocks.

In an economy still stuck in the mud and plagued by unemployent in the millions, the correct policy is for the federal government to stimulate spending by running deficits, as FDR proved in practice and economist John Maynard Keynes in theory during the Great Depression.












Yet the elite consensus today is that budget deficits and federal debt are a great danger to future economic health, so the US (and Europe) are busy pursuing exactly the wrong fiscal policy, just as Hoover did after 1929 — until the New Deal turned things around and revived the economy.  First, everyone forgot the dangers of runaway finance that led to the blow-up of 2008; now, everyone is forgetting the lessons of the recovery of the 1930s.

Even worse, not only is the deficit NOT the real problem, it’s actually SHRINKING today.  Thanks to massive budget cutting and an uptick in tax revenues, the federal budget deficit has gone down, as calculated by Goldman Sachs’ chief economist, Jan Hatzius.

So the bogeyman of the deficit is more like a will-o-the-wisp.



New Deal Mosaics Uncovered in Long Beach Airport

Grace Clement mosaic
at Long Beach airport

During a recent restoration of the old terminal at Long Beach Airport, mosaics by artist Grace Clement were discovered under old carpeting.  The floor mosaics were contracted for by the Works Progress Administration in 1941, and are part of larger series of art works by Clements throughout the airport.  The restoration work was part of a project to expand the terminal facilities.

See the full story in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, November 29, 2012.  For more on the mosaics, see the site listing in the Living New Deal database and map.

Roosevelt 2012 – Toward A European New Deal

A collective has been formed in France by leading political and academic figures such as Michel Rocard, Stéphane Hessel, Edgar Morin, Susan George, and to agitate for a program of action against austerity in Europe, in the spirit of the New Deal.  One of the collective’s members is Curtis Roosevelt, octogenarian grandson of FDR, who lives in southern France.  Over 80,000 people have signed on as supporters of Roosevelt 2012’s 15-point program of economic and democratic reforms.  Members of the collective, including Curtis Roosevelt, have been regularly featured in the French media of late.

Harlem Hospital Murals Rediscovered – And Made Public

WPA murals enlarged on the facade of the new Harlem hospital

WPA murals at Harlem Hospital Center had all but disappeared, but were rediscovered during a major renovation in 2004.  The murals in question were among some 500 murals in New York City funded by the Federal Arts Project arm of the Works Progress Administration.  What is more, these were probably the first New Deal projects awarded to African American artists, and they were controversial in their time for depicting ‘too much Negro subject matter’.  Now the murals have not only been restored, they have been moved to a dedicated gallery  visible from the street and enlargements of three of the murals are printed on the building’s glass facade – a block long and five stories high!   The full story is available at the New York Times website.

Fear Itself

Obama as FDR - Time Magazine Cover
Obama as FDR – Time Magazine Cover

In a tendencious and thought-provoking pair of articles in the Huffington Post, Sanjay Sanghoee makes the case for “Why Republicans Hate FDR and Why Obama Must Become Him”.  He begins with the following provocation:

“Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, Democrat, and architect of the New Deal, was a giant. Through his visionary leadership and courageous actions, FDR helped define a new era for the American economy and indeed our democracy that would resonate for another 80 years. Over an unprecedented four terms as Commander-in-Chief, he designed and implemented a variety of programs to lift America from the Great Depression, including programs to create jobs for the unemployed, spur economic growth, and reform our financial system (by regulating Wall Street and the banks). FDR’s administration also established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and Social Security. It would not be an exaggeration to say that FDR laid the foundation for the bulk of our nation’s modern economic and social framework. It is almost unimaginable what the United States would be like today without the groundbreaking work of that administration.

Which is why the Republicans hate him so much.”

To continuing reading, click here.  For Part II, click here.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a banker and author.  For more details, visit

A Bridge to Somewhere

In a recent article in The Daily Beast by Daniel Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor of History at Yale University, author of Inventing America: A History of the United States, reflects on a trip to Cape Cod, linked to the mainland by three New Deal bridges.  These bridges greatly improved life for motorists and ship captains, while providing economic impetus for the Cape and the region.  Kevles traces the New Deal spirit of government serving the people through public investment and active support of local development back to the 1862 Morrill Act and the creation of the state land grant colleges to support agriculture and rural economies.  The latter was one of the defining acts of the newly-minted Republican Party during the Civil War.  Kevles does not find that spirit of public service

Sagamore Bridge, Massachusetts

alive in the anti-government policies espoused by the current Republican candidates.

Republican Convention Site A Public Works Project

Tampa Bay Times Forum – Built with public funds

Carl Gibson nails the contradiction in Republican Party thinking between the convention slogan, “We Built It”, and the convention site, the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The slogan emphasizes private enterprise as the creator of all good things (rather than bad old government), but the Tampa Forum was built with $62 million in public funds, 3/5ths of the total cost.

Apparently, the old slogan of ‘public-private partnerships’, under which most convention centers and sports arenas have been built around the country, is not free enterprise enough for today’s GOP.

For the full article, go to the Reader Supported News site.