The truth about the New Deal

A little long for something to watch on a computer screen, but worth watching even if you quit about the first 20 or 20 minutes.

[Added 10/21/2020]  The political scientist Thomas Ferguson is the foremost U.S. analyst of money in politics.  In his book, Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Politics, he said that Democrats and Republicans primarily represent competing business interests and only incidentally competing sets of voters.

Campaigning costs so much that nobody can run for high public office without the backing of monied interests or being extremely rich themselves.  So the there is an informal “money primary” before candidates put themselves before the voters in the official primaries.

But even the voter choice of competing business interests is partly an illusion, according to Ferguson.   In national elections, with rate exceptions, the candidate that spends the most money wins. 

For what it’s worth, Joe Biden at this moment is outspending Donald Trump, which he might not have been able to do if he had gone against Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the fossil fuel industry and other entrenched business interests.

Bernie Sanders, by turning to small donors, tried to create an alternative to funding from big-money interests.  Just because he took this approach, he was long treated as a fringe candidate by major newspapers.

Sanders and many other progressives look back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal as a time when government actually represented working people.  Ferguson, in this interview, says the truth is more complicated.

Unlike in Germany, France, Britain and many other European countries, labor unions in the United States were never powerful enough to have their own political party.  FDR’s New Deal was a coalition of business interests that benefited from free trade, such as the oil industry, and desired a revival of consumer spending more than they objected to social welfare spending.

The power of labor unions during the 1930s and 1940s came primarily from their success in organizing previously unorganized workers, Ferguson said.  The Wagner Act and other pro-labor laws helped, but would not have empowered labor by themselves.

The New Dealers, for all their concessions to racism and their other flaws and compromises, did enact programs of great and continuing benefit to all Americans, including African-Americans. 

But the alignment of political forces today is different from what it was in the 1930s, Ferguson noted.  For example, international economic competition was not important in the 1930s, but it is a vital issue today.  History may rhyme, but it doesn’t repeat.

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