Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

28. Tugwell's Thought and America Today

I

Historians have raised the question whether the New Deal was evolutionary or revolutionary.1 Mario Einaudi has written about The Roosevelt Revolution, and Carl N. Degler has called the New Deal "The Third American Revolution."2 Each historian makes his judgment in a particular frame of reference. Tugwell stressed evolution, concluding that in terms of his institutional thought the New Deal did not basically change the capitalistic game but provided some new rules and, through social security, sought to give everyone a chance to play. Since welfare statism, concentration-and-control, and Progressive antitrustism and reform all go back many years in the history of American thought, intellectual historians have tended to label the New Deal evolutionary. At the same time, in many instances the actual adoption of certain measures was new. In this sense, the New Deal was revolutionary in practice, at least in its novelty. Besides the matters of conception and adoption, there is, of course, the question of impact. Whether the New Deal was evolutionary or revolutionary, we live in a society quite different from the America of 1933.

The prevailing opinion is that our complex technological economy will not run well the way Topsy grew. This abandonment of automaticity, Professor J. K. Galbraith has stated, "requires that nearly everyone be socially responsible in some degree at some time. No business decision is any longer quite private. Economic depression has been an unhappy experience with us. No one can lightly risk the charge that he is contributing to such a disaster."3 Thus, as Berle, David Lilienthal, Peter F. Drucker, and others have pointed out, corporations have become more socially conscious than they were in the 1920's. The private sector of the economy displays more wisdom and foresight, exercising greater care in making investment decisions and recognizing the necessity of widespread, adequate purchasing power.

There have been developments in the distribution of control and of income which would surprise Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and which Karl Marx would not believe. Berle has described the concentration of great economic power in about 500 corporations. But this does not mean, as Marx assumed, concentration of economic power in 500 families. Control has become separated from ownership ("management control"), and ownership and benefits through stockholding have become so widespread that it is difficult to describe our system

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