Tag Archives: Roosevelt

Social Security as a National Unification Policy

Legal scholar Karen N. Tani has published one of the most original and provocative  papers in years on one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history—the Social Security Act of 1935.

(Note: For the first time, a Democratic president has just launched a proposal to cut Social Security benefits. This is quite momentous and I’m not ignoring it. But please keep in mind that the history of this program is complex and operates on many levels. I’m highlighting this in the p[resent post. I’ll have more to say on Obama’s historic move soon.)

The Social Security Act was a huge bill, cobbled together in an astonishingly short period of time, and yet it was the culmination of nearly 30 years of thinking about social insurance and the role of government by an ideologically disparate army of scholars, social workers, economists, politicians, lawyers, and actuaries. The whole story of how it came about has still not been written.

Tani, in the Yale Law Journal, asks whether the Social Security Act wasn’t at least partly an exercise in nation-building. Among other things, Continue reading Social Security as a National Unification Policy

Reading FDR’s Mind: “Full Funding” and the Original Intent of Social Security

What kind of a program did Franklin Delano Roosevelt want Social Security to be? A narrowly designed, fully self-funded system, or a more expansive institution whose funding sources might change over time? Today’s three-way struggle between progressives, conservatives, and the center-right over Social Security’s future makes the question of FDR’s “original intent” more timely than ever.

When I was writing The People’s Pension, my history of the past 30 years of the Social Security debate, I sidestepped – for the most part – the question of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s precise intentions were for the program he signed into law in 1935. The early history of Social Security is extremely tangled. The political context was unique. FDR himself was a complex and contradictory figure, and Social Security was much changed by the time my story began, in 1980. But activists on all sides continue to evoke the debates that took place within and around the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s to defend their particular visions of what Social Security should be. In spite of myself, I got interested – and started forming opinions.

So have a lot of other people, at a time when Continue reading Reading FDR’s Mind: “Full Funding” and the Original Intent of Social Security

Thomas Paine, the Tea Party, and Social Security

Sixteen Republican Senate candidates – almost half the field – have stated their support for diverting some portion of Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts. That reflects the impact on the GOP of the Tea Party movement, which so loves to wrap itself in the cloak of America’s revolutionary past. At least one Founding Father – the most famously revolutionary of them all – would not have recognized their vision of America as his. But he would have found much to admire in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s.

Say what you want about the Tea Party – its devotees truly love the Founding Fathers. And the Constitution, as narrowly interpreted. Wikipedia defines the “Founding Fathers” as

the political leaders who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or otherwise took part in the American Revolution in winning American independence from Great Britain, or who participated in framing and adopting the United States Constitution in 1787-1788, or in putting the new government under the Constitution into effect.

That surely makes Thomas Paine a Founding Father. So what would today’s Minutemen (or Minutepersons) make of Paine? Better yet, what would he make of them?

Paine is an uncomfortable presence for conservatives, and isn’t much read these days by Americans who like to call themselves “patriots” Continue reading Thomas Paine, the Tea Party, and Social Security