We went from The New Deal to the Raw Deal

In the 1930s and 40s we had the New Deal (thanks, FDR!). In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, setting legal limits on the maximum number of hours worked and the minimum wages allowed. Child labor was outlawed, and union laws allowed collective bargaining — resulting in much-needed wage growth and improved conditions for workers.

Republicans fought it then, claiming it was an essentially socialist program, and an economic enemy to business and growth. However, it was the very opposite of that — the war and post-war years were ones of productivity and prosperity, widely and broadly. A strong middle class was formed, changing the life and culture of America forever. The very image of the 1950s Average Family with a white picket fence (emphasis on the white) and 2.5 children the right-wing seems to have nostalgia for was made possible by massive government investments into the US economy and labor force — investments which paid off handsomely and broadly for all, with the notable exception (once again… sort of a theme around here…) of Black Americans, who were largely carved out of the GI bill and given the meagre leavings of the superior education and housing benefits doled out to white veterans.

In the mid-1970s this growth engine finally began to falter, and since the 80s, we’ve instead had the Raw Deal. An ever-escalating version of a Libertarian’s wet dream: deregulation of numerous industries including finance (leading to the housing crash of 2007-8) and energy (leading to the Enron scandal, where traders joked about frying grandmas in CA for fat bonuses), a steadily less progressive tax system (down from a whopping 94% in 1944 down to 28% under Reagan), and endless waves of cuts to social programs that were designed to level the opportunity playing field after centuries of explicit discrimination.

The thing is, when people feel hopeful, they work harder.

When there is hopelessness, there is less urgency to work hard to maintain the conditions and systems that make one feel so hopeless. If you know the game is rigged, how futile does it seem to keep playing?

Libertarians lament about the size of the pie, which is as good a modern version of “let them eat cake” while the plebes swill McD’s and pay through the nose for health care as any.