I was reading a well-researched look into fascism in America when I came across this quote by FDR:
“The “privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction….” They erected a “new industrial dictatorship” which controlled the “hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor….”
“For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor-other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real….”
“Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people’s mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended …”
I think it’s still relevant today, unfortunately. Roosevelt was not able to end economic fascism in his lifetime and now it’s back with a vengeance. Economic tyranny is as much of a problem as political tyranny.
In 1944 Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed an “Economic Bill of Rights” that would radically transform the economic policies of our nation to ensure freedom from oppression by Big Business. He saw that political freedom meant nothing if you didn’t have food to eat or a roof to sleep under. Shockingly, FDR’s dream is still unfulfilled 64 years later, but his reasoning and his solutions still hold up.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights-among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however-as our industrial economy expanded-these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. [emphasis mine]
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all-regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; [fascinating inclusion!]
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
While none of the above are guaranteed to every citizen, in many cases America has made a half-assed attempt to realize them. Let’s look at how America 2008 matches up with FDR’s dream:
- There is no right to work or hold a job.
- Minimum wage laws attempt to set a floor for worker pay yet businessmen still howl whenever we try to raise it in keeping with inflation. Minimum wage is America is currently $5.85 an hour and will rise to $7.25 in July of 2009.
- Farmers are a relic of FDR’s time. Big business controls much of the industry. Farmers do have some price supports but these may cause more harm than good.
- The SEC and other watchdog groups are in place to ensure fairness, but they’ve been largely infiltrated by the industries they’re supposed to watch, especially under the Bush administration.
- We don’t have a right to a home.
- We still don’t have universal health care, but we do have Medicare and Medicaid.
- Social Security
- Public schooling up to 12th grade. “Good”? No comment.
Overall, not too bad, but some of the big ones are totally missing. Economic inequality is worse today than it was in FDR’s time.
The article makes the point that the idea of big government restrictions on business is a sort of fascism. I disagree. It’s socialism.
Fascism is more akin to a merger of Big Government and Big Business. Policies in fascist countries are laissez faire when business leaders want them, but they can quickly swing the other way depending on who stands to lose/gain. It’s closer to oligarchy and “might makes right.” Fascism allows businesses to destroy each other through the power of the state. It all depends on who knows who and who’s in power.
Socialism and fascism were both attempts to find a middle ground between laissez faire capitalism and totalitarian communism. Fascism was an attempt from the perspective of business and socialism was an attempt from the perspective of the common man. Fascists were willing to cede political freedom in exchange for economic security whereas socialists surrendered economic freedom in exchange for political security.
Neither system works perfectly, but a look at Europe over the last 70 years should tell you which one is generally superior. Fascism was mostly a lie; fascist leaders denounced the tyranny of communism and turned around and did just as bad when they attained power. Socialism, on the other hand, is the norm in most of western Europe and largely successful and fair. While it results in high taxes and lots of regulation the Bush administration has shown how devastating deregulation can be and their tax cuts for the rich did nothing but spit in the face of the middle class.
It’s ironic that the same Europe that was ravaged by fascism 70 years ago is now a paragon of the economic liberty that FDR envisioned… and that America is in the grip of a shadowy new form of fascism.