A Season for Reform
The social objective . . . is to do what any honest government of any country would do: to try to increase the security and happiness of a larger number of people in all occupations of life and in all parts of the country . . . to give them assurance that they are not going to starve in their old age.
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, press conference of June 7, 1935, responding to the question "What would you say was the social objective of the administration?"
While Roosevelt cruised through the Bahamas on Vincent Astor Nourmahal in the early spring weeks of 1935, the first part of his ambitious legislative program for the year, the Emergency Relief Appropriation Bill, sailed through the new Congress. He called it the "Big Bill," and not without reason. The bill asked for the largest peacetime appropriation to date in American history. It authorized more spending than the sum of all federal revenues in 1934. Four billion dollars in new funds, along with $880 million reallocated from previously authorized appropriations, were to be used for work relief and public works construction.
The word "emergency" in the bill's title was more than a little misleading. Roosevelt and the bill's principal architects in fact believed that they were addressing not a transient disruption in the labor markets but a long-term, perhaps permanent, deficit in the ability of the private economy to provide employment for all who sought it. In the masterwork he was then drafting, John Maynard Keynes would place that dread prospect -- what Keynes called "equilibrium at less than full employment" -- at the center of his analysis.1 The social scientists who had compiled____________________