Portrait of America: Survey Graphic in the ThirtiesHomeIntroductionEditor's NotesArticlesFurther Reading
People Like Ourselves: Forecast for Survey Graphic

by Paul Kellogg

November 1935


When business controls buckled and our post-war prosperity caved in, Washington became the economic as well as the political capital. Emergency moves carried sanctions which are wearing off with recovery. Like them longer range measures, from soil conservation to housing, cost money. The federal government may have been checked in trying to bring elements of economic planning into our industrial process, but its indubitable powers to levy, to borrow and to spend have been exerted on a scale commensurate with war.

Every tax carries social consequences quite apart from its success in raising revenue; processing, payroll and inheritance taxes, like high tariffs, have most of their impact outside the budget. The current recoils to "localism and free initiative," to economy and the constitution, foreshadow lines that will be drawn more and more deeply as legislation is pressed at Washington either to regulate business or to effect a wider distribution of wealth. We come upon a new variant, however, from the old conflict between the haves and have nots. This is the contemporary recognition that our leaping scheme of production, in its own interests no less than that of the common welfare, must be balanced by a widely distributed power to consume and that government must implement it...

From another angle, the question of depressed incomes was attacked in the minimum wage provisions of the NRA, alongside those banning child labor, long hours and sweating. The Supreme Court decision declaring the code system unconstitutional exhibits a vacuum where government does not run; a charge on our statesmanship to find ways to eliminate such industrial evils, on our economists and social investigators for convincing evidence of the need for their elimination. Among labor groups, garment workers and miners are taking the lead in espousing changes in the constitution as the line for action.

Further, out of the depression comes added weight to the demand for overhauling the county as a unit of local government; for experimenting with interstate compacts; and for manning the permanent federal-state-local services with a trained personnel, protected by civil service.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, 2001-2003