Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

13.The National Industrial Recovery Act and the NRA: 1933-1935

The National Industrial Recovery Act has been the subject of a vast amount of study and comment. Its novelty, scope, and complexity make this attention understandable. Putting Tugwell in the center of a discussion of this legislation involves unavoidable distortion, but what he had to do with it and what he had to say about it merit consideration.


I

The novelty of the National Recovery Administration, created under Title I of the NIR Act (Title II authorized public works), was in its enactment. There was nothing new about the ideas behind it. For years business had desired to eliminate destructive competition through self- government under a relaxation of the antitrust laws. Labor had wanted higher wages, shorter hours, and, to achieve them, guaranteed rights of organization and collective bargaining. Others, like Tugwell and Moley, had a more general view, following Van Hise's concept of "concentration and control"--legalization of the invincible combination movement and the establishment of social controls to protect the general interest. Tugwell wrote in greater detail about implementation and advocated more government intervention than Moley did.

Reviewing the background of the NRA in The Democratic Roosevelt, Tugwell classified business' aspirations as negative and positive. On the negative side was the withdrawal of competitive influence from areas where competition was unprofitable and gave an advantage to unscrupulous exploiters of labor and consumers--the elimination of "unfair practices." On the positive side were additional advantages in forming trade associations: "exchanging information concerning standards, methods for attaining efficiency, the general conditions governing manufacture and sale, statistics covering the industry, and so on." Tugwell noted that the NRA, looked at as a way of giving industry responsibility for establishing standards of decent social behavior and for eliminating the "nonconforming few who persisted in 'unfairness,'" was a logical extension of the trade-association development which Secretary of Commerce Hoover had sponsored.1

Regarding the trade associations' positive advantages in exchanging information, Tugwell remarked that they did not violate the antitrust acts, but "they did easily merge into prohibited practices, such as division of markets and agreements about prices."2 His institutional

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