The Great Depression wrought major alterations in America’s governmental, political and social realms. Most of these changes were part of or closely associated with the New Deal. Were these changes for good or ill? What was their effect, in the short and the long run, on the fabric of American society?
Few would disagree that certain of the New Deal’s fundamental reforms have helped to create, in the post–New Deal era, a political economy less vulnerable to major economic catastrophe, more fair in distribution of income, and more effectively considerate of those in need. The New Deal, for example, clearly left the banking system more secure and better regulated and the stock market less exposed to shoddy practices than before. Most successful political figures in both major parties, moreover, have acknowledged since the New Deal that the government should maintain, to some extent at least, a “safety net,” of social insurance to assist the retired, those without jobs because of recessions, and those unable to work because of disability. Nor have they disputed the government’s obligation to recognize and defend labor’s right to organize freely and bargain collectively, although Democrats and Republicans might differ as to the particulars of that obligation.
The political and social changes of the depression years also would be judged by most Americans as positive. The New Deal coalition conferred upon the “ethnics,” mainly Catholics and Jews, a new, more powerful position in American politics, and through that position a wider recognition in public life and soon in the private sphere as well. In 1938 Secretary of