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As Cohen summarizes, “When the male breadwinner suffered…traditional authority relationships within the family, between husbands and wives and between parents and children, began to break down.” Disastrous conditions in the city were mirrored in the countryside by falling farm prices, unpayable debt and land dispossession, a glutted market, droughts, storms, and chronic homelessness.Rauchway writes that a total of 11.5 million workers, representing the income of about 30 million Americans, lost their jobs.
Yet, paradoxically, the government did so in order to preserve traditions that were even more fundamental to American history.
As Richard Hofstadter explains, these values included “a belief in the rights of [private] property, the philosophy of economic individualism, [and] the value of competition.” Contrary to critics, the New Deal program was not driven by hard “economic dogmas” or set “political precedents,” neither was it a “coherent system” as Anthony Badger reminds us.
Hoover pass a bit of reform legislation, like the Federal Employment Stabilization Board and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
But all of this legislation was designed to save the economy by aiding lenders.
The program never embraced wealth redistribution, extreme ideologies, the nationalization of private property, or state-protected racial equality. What are historians to make of this seeming paradox between the radicalism and conservatism of the New Deal?
The following paper will briefly explore this question through an analysis of New Deal history.But even these “informal networks” of welfare were no longer sufficient. The Depression pervaded all aspects of American life.Families in urban environments underwent new pressures and tensions as a result of underemployment unemployment.The end result of the decade was not communism, socialism, or government. Unemployment soared in the years following “Black Thursday,” reaching a high-water mark of about 25%; the Gross National Product was halved; and unregulated marketplace competition—joined by declining purchasing power and a lack of consumer confidence—created a situation of unprecedented deflation.Banks were failing; factories were closing; local governments were defaulting; city and state treasuries were depleting; farmers were over-producing; industries were cutting wages, reducing hours, and laying off employees; consumers were not purchasing; and the wealth gap was yawning. As Cohen demonstrates, they were falling back on traditional institutions of family, neighborhood, union, and religious and ethnic solidarity.As Kathryn Olmsted states, “Roosevelt wanted to save capitalism” through reform.And so, while the New Deal was groundbreaking in many ways, its horizons were ultimately limited.As Jason Scott Smith states, the New Deal was nothing short of a revolution in “state-sponsored economic development.” Eric Rauchway adds that, while “The New Deal did not end the Great Depression,” it was instrumental in healing its wounds.Both unemployment and the economy were steadily improving throughout the 1930s. There is no denying the New Deal broke with American traditions, particularly ideas about non-government interference in private, regional, and local affairs.For example, the RFC was set up to redistribute money to local treasuries, but Hoover would do so through loans, grants.As Rauchway states, Hoover “did nothing immediate for non-banker Americans.” The failures of Hoover’s administration to halt the quickening slide of the Depression culminated in the Bonus Army Riots of 1932.