Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

By Peter A. Swenson | Go to book overview

10
WHOSE BUSINESS WERE THE
NEW DEALERS MINDING?

Probably no advisor close to Franklin Roosevelt wanted to keep things on good terms with big business in America more than Raymond Moley. The central figure in FDR's “Brains Trust” and coiner of the term New Deal, Moley barely mentions the Social Security Act in his firsthand account of the hostility between Roosevelt and much of the business community in 1935. Businessmen, he explained in 1939, were reacting with “paroxysms of fright” to Roosevelt's “soak the rich” talk accompanying his inheritance and corporate profits tax plans. Roosevelt and other Democratic Party leaders had gotten their own attack of jitters about Louisiana Senator Huey Long and the growing popularity of his Share Our Wealth movement. It looked like Long would even campaign outside Louisiana for promising Share Our Wealth candidates and possibly spoil FDR's chances in the next presidential election. Roosevelt told Moley he thought it necessary to “steal Long's thunder. ” Moley, alarmed by Roosevelt's cocky defiance, thought the taxes an overreaction.

Roosevelt, it seemed, now welcomed the business world's outrage as if “the proof of a measure's merit was the extent to which it offended the business community”—though all the while expressing amazement “that capitalists did not understand that he was their savior, the only bulwark between them and revolution. ” 1 He was deeply vexed by the intemperate carping and insults that vocal businessmen heaped on him, his wife, and his New Deal. Moley fully agreed with FDR that their grounds for complaint were mostly “purely imaginary” and “a question of psychology. ” (As historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., put it, FDR thought that many businessmen were “inclined to be ignorant and hysterical” and so “declined to pay the rich the compliment of fearing them”. ) Roosevelt even endorsed Wagner's labor relations bill, which corporate progressives hoped would fail. But on this, compared with the soak the rich rhetoric, Moley was more sympathetic. Roosevelt had changed his mind in favor of

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