Five Borough Report June 2003
Towards a New New Deal?
In his new book, A New Deal for New
York, Mike Wallace was inspired by New Yorkers' solidarity and
compassion for one another after 9/11. It seemed possible that the collapse
of the twin towers could focus national attention on the longstanding political
and economic problems of the City. "By making chronic conditions
acute," Wallace writes, the bombing of the towers "helped galvanize
the will to confront them." The New Deal --which started as a response
to another Wall Street disaster -- could serve as a model of a
compassionate public sector.
What would a new New Deal look like?
The New Deal's creators viewed the alleviation of poverty as an economic
good. Improving the lives of the poor and the working class could make the
whole economy grow. He wants a greater level of public involvement to
preserve and nurture the urban economy.
The New Deal is quite a benchmark. By 1936, public works projects
in New York City employed more than 246,000 people who constructed hundreds
of parks, swimming pools, playgrounds and the Central Park Zoo, and almost
400 new police and fire stations. New Deal agencies hired artists, writers
and actors. Out-of-work teachers founded the city's first public daycare
centers. Thousands of workers in all kinds of occupations organized
industrial unions. Especially in New York City, the New Deal contained the
promise of a vision of a society driven by human need and collective
purpose instead of private wealth.
The first New Deal was won only after
a century of struggle. It bore witness to a vision of American society that
would place labor and the well-being of working people at the center of the
economy's productive power. It saw government as a counterbalance to the
power of the private sector, protecting ordinary people from the ravages of
the marketplace. New Deal Democrats did not make the New Deal alone. It was
born of the men and women who sat down at Flint and streamed into
industrial unions, who marched on Washington for sustenance and work. This
near-revolution was fought bitterly in the 1930s by conservative
businessmen, and its remnants are still under attack today -- in every
supply-side tax cut, every antiunion campaign.
An egalitarian politics has yet to
rise from the ruins of lower Manhattan. It seems clear that the primary
effect of the war on terror has been to strengthen every conservative
political force in American society. Instead of a program of public investment,
we've gotten tax cuts and welfare cutbacks-not to mention a new federal
agency free of unions, and the first invocation in a generation of the
Taft-Hartley Act to stop a labor action. No politics that matters can hide
beneath the sentimental unity of war. The Great Depression and the New Deal
revealed deep conflicts in American society that had long been evaded and
denied. No matter how remarkable the New Deal's practical accomplishments,
its deeper political lesson is that we must to keep faith in the struggle
for a better world, even as we are disappointed and frustrated with the
current leadership of the Democratic Party.
-- Excerpted from
The Nation - December 30, 2002