Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good

Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good

Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good

Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good

Excerpt

The most powerful person in the nation during the Great Depression and World War II—next to Franklin Roosevelt—was not a member of the president’s Brain Trust; he was not a Wall Street figure, a military man, or a college graduate. He was Jesse Jones, an entrepreneur from Texas with an eighth-grade education who built the bulk of Houston’s downtown during the first half of the twentieth century and who became such a uniquely powerful appointed official that he was rightly known by many as the “fourth branch of government.” Roosevelt even called him “Jesus Jones.” Although now largely forgotten, Jones’s remarkable accomplishments redefine Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency by contradicting common notions about the New Deal, shedding new light on World War II mobilization, and offering perspective on, and possible solutions for, some of today’s intractable problems.

In 1931 Jones spent three days and nights cajoling fellow Main Street bankers into rescuing and stabilizing all of Houston’s tottering banks. This feat caught the attention of President Herbert Hoover, who then appointed him to the bipartisan board of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), the agency that was the president’s last-ditch effort to save the nation’s drowning economy. Jones thought Hoover’s RFC did not go far enough, complaining that it was “entirely too timid and slow.” In a . . .

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