In my more cynical moments I think the the New Deal wasn’t really about making a more equitable society, but rather a reaction to the times, and an attempt to stave off revolution. That the best way to stave off such a revolution was to make a more equitable society was a nice side effect (for those who weren’t at the top). The world has changed since then. The big scary revolution the people at the top were scared of didn’t happen (remember, at the start of the Depression the Soviet Union was brand new, and like France before it was preaching revolution far and wide; as with the gov’ts which were near France, the reaction was enough to make that exportation seem more needful lest they be destroyed from without: don’t forget the US sent troops to try and defeat the Communists.).
But those days are long gone, right? The idea of popular revolt against Capitalist Lackeys is so far gone as to be laughable. The more we forget. The French Revolution is lost to us now, so much happened, in so short a span, that we keep odd snapshots: The Terror, Napoleon, the Fall of the Bastille. All the rest gets glosssed. It took a while, (and some provocations) to get to the Terror, and then the Directory. In the beginning there was much less in the way of violence, Louis was supposed to become a constitutional monarch. What caused the change? Among other things, lack of bread. Poor harvests, and greedy people, added to the strains of remaking something so large as France.
Food, it’s essential. It’s lack leads to violence. Not enough leads to people who can’t focus (I’m hungry right now, and it’s making my typing even worse than my usual). It’s part of the reason students in poverty are more likely to be poor students. It’s not lack of ability, it’s lack of energy to spend on diagramming sentences and learning about Crispus Attucks (much less John Adams defending the soldiers who shot him), because the hollow in their bellies is consuming their attentions.
It’s presence can save lives: It’s continued presence can remake them: A friend of mine has some eloquent thoughts on The Farm Bill (really, go read it, it’s the spark to this bit of rambling).
Those cynical moments I had up at the top of this post…. they have companions. There was a time, about five years ago, when I was stone broke. Out of the Army, no job to be had. I was living on the kindness of friends. I was thinking about food, a lot. I was waiting for the GI Bill to kick in (which would be just enough to keep body and soul together). I applied for food stamps. I was in California, a supposed “Welfare Mecca” (regularly we are told the benefits Calif. gives out are so generous and free flowing that people flock to her cities to live the life of a Deadbeat In Paradise). I filled out the forms, went to the counselling session. Was told I qualified, but for one little thing. I was enrolled in college. That changed the rules. To be on Food Stamps requires that one be willing to work. I was willing to work. I’d been looking for work; no one was biting at my résumés. But, as a student it was assumed a 40 hour week wasn’t practiable (which is true).
So, Calif. (the Farm Bill allocates the money, the states distribute it, and they get to make their own rules: Calif. is said to be possessed of rules which aren’t too onerous) decided the “compromise” is that a student has to have a job; which pays said student 20 hours worth of the federal minimum wage, before said student can get food stamps.
So that education we are told, sententiously, is the key to a better life; is off limits if you aren’t comfortable enough to afford it. School isn’t the tool with which to break the cycle of poverty; not if you are really poor.
Which brings us full circle. Lack of food leads to revolution. Revolution terrifies me. People will say, “It can’t happen here”. They are wrong. It can happen anywhere. The prime cause is usually social inequality; and we are piling that up like it was going out of business. The Capitalist Lackeys need to keep in mind that the New Deal, and “The Welfare State” (esp. as practiced in the US) has not made them poor, just kept them from being a little more rich. If they want to keep the gains they’ve gotten, they need to think about what will happen if (when) the people who are at the other end of that scale lose what’s left of their patience. Case in point, there is a nationwide call for a strike at fast-food restaurants: and the “Recovery” hasn’t been a recovery at all, if you weren’t already rich enough to not really suffer from this “Great Recession”, then the “recovery” has been an alchemical trick, turning gold into lead, as companies convert full-time jobs into several part time jobs.
A cynic might think the ACA was a tool, designed by Conservatives, to make that happen; a bit of a band-aid to make revolution less likely. Feh.
We had a system, one that worked well (not great, but well). Social Security, Food Stamps. Unemployment. Progressive income taxes. A decent GI Bill (this one is good, but it could be better; it screws reservists who get deployed, while giving 100 percent to Regulars who never leave the states; don’t get me started on the way the pension system is fucked up for those who were in the reserves). If we went back to that, and got a Single Payer healthcare system; we’d have better than the New Deal, we’d have something like a fair deal.