and the American Temperament
by Russell H. Kurtz
Contributing Editor, The Survey
problem is to work out a social and economic organization which
shall be as efficient as possible without offending our notions
of a satisfactory way of life." JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES
THE slow progress of the $4,880,000,000
works and relief bill through Congress prior to its passage
April 5 gave the country an opportunity to think over its unemployment
problem and to realize how complicated it is. This must be counted
as a gain, for a few months ago when the works plan was first
proposed there was a tendency to overrate its possibilities
as a way out from all our troubles. Debate and delay have cleared
the air somewhat.
We now are disposed to see
the works measure as a preferred device in a group of relief
procedures which will inevitably include some continuation of
"the dole," local poor relief to "unemployables" and a variety
of forms of social insurance and category aid. So far, the Administration
has not conceded that continued outright relief to the unemployed
(the dole) is going to be necessary even on a reduced scale,
but public opinion has begun to evidence a more realistic attitude
on this point. It has responded in large measure to the President's
idealistic desire to wipe out relief and substitute work, but
now questions his practical ability to do this completely. Moreover,
there is insistence, and with considerable reason, that the
work program is only another form of relief and will not bring
about a bona-fide reduction of unemployment through the creation
of full and permanent opportunities for self-support. In short,
the American people have begun to see relief as a continuing
problem and seem willing to face the issue as to how it can
best be organized for the long pull.
The New York City Mayor's Committee
on Unemployment Relief displayed this attitude clearly in a
series of recommendations made a few weeks ago. "It is highly
desirable," this body says, "that a maximum number of unemployed
men and women should be placed on productive public work and
work-relief projects rather than on a homerelief dole, which
is demoralizing to the recipient and unproductive to the community....
However, no work projects as yet outlined can do more than absorb
a small portion of the unemployed men and women in this city.
Nothing less than the willingness of the government to enter
into competition with private industry can achieve such a result....
This community must, together
with other communities throughout the country, therefore decide
whether the millions of unemployed families who are not reemployed
in private industry or on public works shall be given just enough
to continue their existence or shall be guaranteed a minimum
standard of living which will maintain standards o f health
and decency for themselves and the communities of which they
form an important part.
In our opinion the latter choice
must be made but it will have to be made with the recognition
that it will involve a vast and increasing tax burden throughout
the United States. This is a problem which concerns the city,
state and federal governments jointly. It is their duty to work
out a common plan under which adequate funds can be raised."
Works Act is so phrased that the Administration may, if it chooses,
change its mind about quitting the relief business and decide
instead to reserve a portion of its funds for helping carry
the inevitable burden of home aid which must remain even after
the works program is going full blast. Such a decision may not
come readily or soon and may never, in fact, be made openly.
The President's dislike of relief and his determination to scotch
it should not be underestimated. What is more likely to happen
is that there will be a month-by-month continuation of federal
grants to the states for direct relief on an emergency basis
"until" the works program becomes fully effective. This may
well go on indefinitely, through sheer necessity.
The alternative, a bold acceptance by the federal government
of the need for an underlying long-time federal-state-local
system of direct public assistance, is not popular at Washington.
It is assumed to be an un-American concept, out of keeping with
our traditions, and a potential breeder of all sorts of trouble.
In refusing to accept it, the Administration undoubtedly feels
that it is reflecting public sentiment, never friendly to the
notion of investing relief with any degree of security.