It is not easy today to convey the intense belief of many activists and intellectuals in the ’30s concerning the necessity and inevitability of radical change. Among the best known are the different advocacies that swirled around Franklin Roosevelt’s liberal New Deal years. Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party’s frequent presidential candidate, was pushing FDR toward government health insurance, unemployment compensation, Social Security, and labor union rights.
Then there were the “spread the wealth” movements of popular figures like Sen. Huey Long and radio personalities like Father Coughlin and, in contrast, the Wall Streeters’ own challenge: the attempt to save capitalism from President Roosevelt, whom they called a “traitor to his class.”
In this mix, there was espoused a political economy for grassroots America that neither Wall Street nor the socialists nor the New Dealers would find acceptable. It came largely out of the agrarian South, casting a baleful eye on both Wall Street and Washington, D.C. To these decentralists, the concentrated power of bigness would produce its plutocratic injustices whether regulated through the centralization of political authority in Washington or left to its own cyclical failures.
This is why these thinkers insisted on the proximity of direct ownership, in contrast to remote stock ownership, and, as a result, favored individual proprietorship and producer and consumer cooperatives. In cases in which large-scale efficiencies require large-scale operations, they should be run as “public services.”
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