Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America

By Daniel Jacoby | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Union Compromise

True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry--people who are out of a job--are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident.

-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 11, 1944

For the generation that came of age in the early twentieth century, the freedom to shape their own lives became hopelessly entwined with consuming public events. In the span of a single lifetime, national heroes and villains--Lenin, Wilson, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Mao-- confounded everyone's personal ambitions. International revolutions, world wars, depression, genocide, cults of personality, and cultural revolutions ensnared individual citizens like tiny ships in the ocean playground of reckless state leviathans.

It is not surprising, then, that these times created a sea-tide of change that reconfigured the dimensions of American freedom. Political economist Robert Higgs has argued that demands for governmental activity ratchet upward when crisis emerges and reliance upon markets begins to appear cumbersome and inefficient. Crisis leads more people to appreciate how the state can be used to forcefully redirect the activities of men, women, and their economy. Although post-crisis backlash usually ensues, Higgs argues that, once enlarged, the state never reverts completely to its pre-crisis level of activity. Those who, like Higgs, resent active government, saw the succession of crises in the first half of the nineteenth century as a threat to the liberty of individuals to choose their own destinies. Indeed, the noted Austrian philosopher Friedrich Hayek spoke of the West's march down The Road to Serfdom. 1


Corporatism and the Centralization of Government Power

By mid-century the United States had, like other major industrialized countries, experienced a profound centralization of power. The change was par

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