In the Name of Liberalism: Illiberal Social Policy in the USA and Britain

By Desmond King | Go to book overview

6

'They Have Been Given a Chance':
The US Civilian Conservation Corps

THIS chapter examines the United States' use in the 1930s of work camps, in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), as a mechanism to address unemployment. It begins with a brief account of the origins and establishment of the CCC, and in the main part of the chapter provides an account of the Corps at work. The exposition is structured by two issues: the ways in which the Corps was made compatible with traditional US political values; and how attempts to make the CCC permanent were thwarted. I argue that the Corps encountered pressures arising from the liberal political culture in the United States, as interpreted and manipulated by President Roosevelt, which precluded its becoming a permanent collectivist institution. As a government programme, it fitted well with a liberal ameliorative agenda but only on a short-term basis.

As an exercise in social policy, the Corps rested on a modest informational basis. Policy-makers were familiar principally with state-level experiments in collectivist solutions to unemployment, which combined a concern with conservation with the needs of large numbers of unemployed persons. These examples came directly to Roosevelt's White House with his key administrators such as Harry Hopkins; and they were part of the overall New Deal initiative in which competing and varied ideas and proposals were articulated amongst senior policy-makers. As Weir and Skocpol show, in the 1930s, the US federal government was open to new proposals, which could help address unemployment. 1 Upon assuming office, Roosevelt quickly brought his famous 'brains trust' to the White House, academic experts (such as Raymond Moley and Rexford Tugwell) to advise him on policy.

The CCC is part of the general public works programme which characterized the New Deal response to misery and unemployment. However, as a programme the Corps is distinct from other New Deal publicly funded initiatives. First, it was residential, with participants allocated to camps in

____________________
1
See Weir and Skocpol (1985).

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