Friday, December 24, 2010

How Hoover Did It

[Click to enlarge]

There was no state/national Unemployment Insurance in 1932 when this ad ran in Good Housekeeping Magazine. And of course, Hoover, et al, were not about to originate any kind of program to assist the masses of unemployed -- without the permission of the corporatists and plutocrats of the time. What they would allow then is pretty much what the Republicans and many Libertarians seek to institute now: a more or less leaky and rickety system of private charity provided through churches, community fund drives, and large charitable institutions, to the "deserving unemployed/poor" only.

Everyone else to fend for themselves.

That's the way it was back in the Hoover era; that's the way it had always been in this country, and that's the way the Hooverites and their corporatist/plutocratic sponsors believed it should always be. After all, only a few had ever starved or died of exposure or untreated disease during previous economic "readjustments." So it would be this time.

But by 1932, the nation was in the grip of a worsening Depression that had begun 3 years before. The situation for the masses was untenable, and there was a real whiff of Revolution in the air. The Hooverite approach to the economic catastrophe was to shower benefits and government pump-priming efforts at the top (hardly Keynesian, but it is not at all true that the Hoover government did nothing) and wait for things to get better "down below."

Hoover was a Progressive Republican, after all. Little understood is Hoover's massive efforts to feed Belgium after its conquest by Germany in World War I, subsequently to run an American food program once the United States entered the War, and then, after the defeat of the Central Powers, to feed all of Europe, including in time the new-born Soviet Union. This was a monumental task under extremely difficult -- and politically fraught -- circumstances which in previous eras simply wouldn't have been done at all. Famines were strategic weapons of the powerful, and millions of starving and dead were a good thing in the eyes of the Powers That Be more often than not.

When Hoover said, "These people will be fed," and fought those Powers he became a hero, not just in Europe but in the United States as well.

That's part of why his reaction to the Great Depression in the United States seemed out of character for him given what he had already shown he could do. In fact, what he had demonstrated already was that he could be far more of a radical on behalf of the People than Roosevelt would turn out to be. Hoover would not let anything stand in the way of his mission.

But in reacting to the Depression, he was slow, he was focused entirely on the plight of the upper-upper crust, and he was almost shockingly indifferent to the increasingly horrifying situation of the poor and the working classes.

It was as if he forgot everything he learned about doing what was necessary to ensure some sense of well-being at the bottom of the pyramid rather than devoting all interest at the top.

The continuing indifference of our rulers today to the expanding tragedies at the bottom of the American Pyramid is only going to get worse as the government transitions from "Democratic" to partial Republican rule. What had been a breathtaking level of indifference to the plight of the masses is about to become a deliberate campaign of demonization, vilification and scapegoating by Republicans, which will undoubtedly be picked up and sallied forth by many Dems as well. It won't stop with the unemployed. The sick and the elderly, the poor, the halt and the lame are all about to get thoroughly bludgeoned by the 2 X 4s wielded by the Marshalls of Austerity, on behalf of the Rich and the Super-Rich world wide.

I can't see at this point any sign that the White House will stand in the way.

We are going back to a much rougher time.

The question remains: how will Americans respond. So far, they have shown no sign at all that they can even conceive of the kinds of actions necessary to reverse the trend.

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