Justin at RightontheRight.com asks us if FDR was a socialist. Heres my response:
I think your question needs to be clarified. Theres no question his programs were socialistic. Another problem I have is that your question seems to imply that if your readers answer "yes" it is a refutation of Roosevelt. Too much of political debate today labels somebody something as an argument in and of itself. By asking this question I think you are obligated to critique socialism. Plus, this question asks us to bite off more than we can chew. But Ill try. Enough of criticizing your question, I get the point anyway and Ill answer it.
If you technical about political philosophy I would say FDR was a "reform liberal". I use the term liberal in the Hobbesian sense that we are all liberals. Think of the "classical liberalism" that our country was founded on. (legitimate government, free markets, individualism, limited government, and individual rights) Reform liberalism basically says that the market is not sufficient enough to provide for people and laissez-faire capitalism is chaotic and does not work. This can be distinguished from socialism in that it still loosely maintains a market based economy unlike pure socialism. But for the sake of the discussion I will refer to it as socialism.
The only way I will say that FDR was a socialist is you are saying that any intervention in the market is socialist. If we are using that definition every elected official is a socialist. So the only way somone cannot be a socialist is if they support pure laissez-faire economics.
Herbert Hoover's laissez faire ideology was outdated. It had a place in 18th and part of 19th century America but not after the industrial revolution. Adam Smith and the early capitalist thinkers dreamed up capitalism before the industrial revolution. In the early 1900's because of technology there was pollution and more of it than anyone could of ever imagined. The economy was now production based with people working for wages instead of working on farms. Airplanes were invented. Regulation of airplanes was very practical. Air traffic control prevented planes from crashing into one another. My point is that with all the massive changes going on in America it is ridiculous to expect our economy to go completely unregulated.
Another point I want to make is that regulation is good for capitalism. Regulation gives consumers greater faith in the economy making them more likely to invest. For example, post ENRON, the TECH industry really really wanted regulation so people would trust the tech sector once again. FDRs regulation of banking and other industries actually helped them. Regulation is not always the nemesis of business. If your like me and are a capitalist you should thank FDR.
I think Justin brings this point up because of recent books being written about how the New Deal made the economy worse and the economy was set to heal itself under Hoover, and FDR only had a good economy because of the War buildup. I dont buy it. The laissez-faire framework was outdated and was a cause of the depression. FDR brought the economy into the 19th century. (by the way, the original definition of neoconservative was somebody who basically accepts the New Deal as neccesary but fights aditional regualations and supports some deregulation. Irv Kristol is the original neoconservative in this regard, whereas Bill Buckley represents the old right. Of course God only knows what neoconservative is supposed to mean today. So color me a neocon.) Bigger Government was a neccesary evil.
The New Deal did a lot of good things. I really like the programs that employed people. During the depression as we all know it was impossible for many to find jobs. When so many able-bodied people are unable to work the public (government) has got to move.That isnt to say everyone in the country should be employed. A conservative understands this is impossible. FDR understood this as well. (Contrast that with the Bush crucible of "When someone hurts, Government has got to move")Yes folks, thats our "conservative" President George W. Bush) Anyway, it is unacceptable to have millions and millions of people not working. Hey, if someone has no source of income, what kind lifestyle do you think they'll choose? Very likely crime and degeneracy. I like his regulation of business because it gave them a stability and restored faith in our economy.
What is wrong with the New Deal? To answer my own question, a lot of things. The minimum wage has the opposite effect of what it is intended to do. Social Security taxes are levied from the employee and passed on from the employer. That is money workers could be using themselves to retire. Also Social Security is a crazy promise to begin with. It demands perfection. "Nobody should fall into the cracks," they say. Even if we didnt have Social Security, very few retirees would be in extreme poverty. They would know they have to plan for it. Even if a few do fall into hard times, I do not believe heaven and earth should be moved to save a couple of people. No matter how many Government programs are created there will always be poverty. As Rudy Giuliani recently said, "The Democrats want a society with no risk." Roosevelts programs however were mainly intended to be temporary assistance. That idea did not last long.
Was FDR a socialist? In a sense. But our economy is capitalist with a small degree of socialism which makes it the best in the world.