Shared Responsibility, Shared Risk: Government, Markets and Social Policy in the Twenty-First Century

By Jacob S. Hacker; Ann O’Leary | Go to book overview

4
“The Arms of Democracy”:
Economic Security in the Nation’s
Broader National Security Agenda

MARIANO-FLORENTINO CUÉLLAR AND CONNOR RASO

These measures have all had only one supreme purpose—to make
democracy work—to strengthen the arms of democracy in peace
or war and to ensure the solid blessings of free government to
our people in increasing measure.1

—Franklin Roosevelt


Introduction

On April 8, 1952, President Truman signed an executive order that sought to seize control of a major chunk of American heavy industry—its steel mills. The nation’s involvement in the Korean conflict was fueling substantial inflationary pressure, and union officials were convinced that the steel industry was achieving considerable profits at a time when workers’ wages remained stagnant.2 Because industrial power was America’s defining military advantage, the president was not inclined to let a labor dispute erode this strategic asset. These circumstances help frame the conventional description of the dilemma in the famous case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer Youngstown, which essentially turns on the extent of executive branch power to control the economy in the name of national security. When the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case, it readily demonstrated that President Truman’s dramatic action, along with the legal strategy used to defend it, was fraught with problems.3

The larger context in which the Youngstown case arose underscores a relationship between the economy and the concept of national security that neither the litigants nor the Court could afford to ignore. For the executive branch, continued steel production was at core a means to the end of sustained American industrial strength.4 Given the federal government’s priorities, the Court’s decision had the potential to engender considerable further conflict about the

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