Magazine article Foreign Affairs

The Borrowers

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

The Borrowers

Article excerpt

The Borrowers Putting the New Deal in a Global Context Ira Katznelson The New Deal: A Global History BY KIRAN KLAUS PATEL. Princeton University Press, 2016, 435 pp.

World history is at least as old as Herodotus and Thucydides, but self-conscious "global history" is a recent development in the academy. More than a hundred books with those words in the title have been published this century, up from a handful in the prior two decades and zero before that. At their best, such studies are able to see past the limits of national histories, exploring the interconnections and flows of people, goods, ideas, and events across time and space. As the German historian Jürgen Osterhammel has put it, they can illuminate "the relationship between general developments and regional variants," putting familiar stories in a new perspective.

Kiran Klaus Patel's impressive new book is a good example of this trend: it considers the social welfare policies adopted in the United States during Franklin Roosevelt's administration not as sui generis but as one expression of a broader global pattern.

How, Patel asks, did global ideas and networks affect American decisions regarding the reconstruction of democracy and capitalism? And how did these American choices then feed back into developments elsewhere? Looking at things this way reveals a great deal about a well-studied period in the past-and might help illuminate the nature of globalization not just then but now.


Patel traces with unprecedented detail the intense international exchange and "transnational learning and linking" that shaped the Roosevelt administration's responses to the global crisis of capitalism and democracy in the 1930s. He explored similar themes in his earlier book Soldiers of Labor, revealing startling similarities between the Reich Labor Service in Nazi Germany and the Civilian Conservation Corps (ccc) in the United States. (The Nazi version was mandatory, harsher, and actively ethnonationalist, yet both emphasized discipline and symbolism, and neither did much to end mass unemployment.) His new book also focuses on policy initiatives the New Deal shared with other governments' programs, while widening the scope of inquiry, tackling everything from how Washington adapted fascist corporatism and Soviet planning to how it handled land issues, public works, trade, the gold standard, labor policy, immigration, banking, housing, social insurance, and more.

Many global histories study eras of increasing globalization, such as the decades prior to World War I. In this case, by contrast, globalization was in broad retreat by the winter of 1933, when both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt came into office. Protectionism had sharply reduced trade, capital flows had slowed, and restrictions on the free exchange of information were rife. Still, policy appropriation was on the upswing. The core of Patel's book tracks how the New Deal adopted what governments elsewhere were doing to confront the Great Depression. Most of these foreign regimes were authoritarian and embraced protectionism and other antiglobalist stances. In borrowing these regimes' ideas, the Roosevelt administration retooled them so as to secure democracy and eventually reintegrate the United States into the global economy.

U.S. officials, it turns out, were able to observe examples of industrial planning and regulation from countries as varied as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Iran, Turkey, and Uruguay. The Resettlement Administration-a federal agency that relocated struggling urban and rural families to new communities-followed rural development currents in Romania and Turkey. Electrification had become a central feature of Soviet planning before it was embraced by the United States. Models for the Wagner Act's chartering of industrial unions existed in Chile, Colombia, France, and Norway. And as the United States debated geopolitics in the mid-1930s, it could borrow neutrality policies from Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal. …

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