Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Deal History

I've been reading a very interesting and entertaining history of the United States written by Garet Garrett and entitled THE AMERICAN STORY. Mr. Garrett has a marvelous ability to see through the fog. Here is a sample:
In all these New Deal laws there was infringement of the individual's liberty. The employer was no longer free to hire and fire whom he would, nor to buy labor below a certain price; neither side to the labor contract was free. An American boy, with a tear in his eye and adventure in his heart, was no longer free to steal away over the kitchen roof at night and go forth to meet the world; there was no work for him in the world out there because the law said he was child labor and any employer who hired him would be forbidden access to the channels of interstate commerce. The wage earner had to have a union card and a Social Security number. The farmer was no longer free to do what he would with his own ground or his own wheat. No wage earner was any longer free to be so improvident as to consume the whole of his own earnings and forget his old age.

To enforce these laws it was necessary to create new agencies of government. Each new agency issued its own rules and regulations, having the force of law; and in a little while these administrative agencies were passing ten times as many laws as Congress, all binding on the people.

So bureaucratic authority developed and became not only aggressive but indispensable--indispensable, that is, if the hand of government was going to touch every kind of human activity. Congress, the only elective law-making body, could pass only general laws, and then only after long debate; whereas the administrative agencies could pass specific laws, which were sometimes not printed at all but only mimeographed, and often got mislaid at the source. The confusion was unbearable until they were required to publish their laws in a bulletin called the Federal Register. After that any body who wanted to know what the law was--even a member of Congress--had to read the Federal Register.

And not only did the administrative agency make its own laws--that is, rules and regulations having the force of law--but when it came to the enforcement of them it acted as prosecutor, jury and judge, all three in one, and appeals from its decisions to regular courts of law were, for technical reasons, costly and difficult.

All of this took place in the executive sphere of government, with its axis in the Office of the President. Never before had the executive principle of government been so exalted--over the parliamentary principle, which is the Congress, and the judicial principle, which is the Supreme Court.

But this was a new time. Jealous individualism was waning. These New Deal laws were popular with the people; and the Supreme Court, after having liberalized itself, consistently upheld them. Two of the conservative Justices retired. In their room Mr. Roosevelt appointed men to his own liking. Then Chief Justice Hughes, who apparently thought he had saved the Court from disaster, resigned, and that was the end of the feud. The President had won. As it turned out the Supreme Court did the New Deal no harm at all. It got all the laws it really wanted. (pp. 281-282)
I highly recommend this book.

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