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As It Ever Was

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Bill Scher has an important article distinguishing the fantasy FDR and LBJ from the real ones:

The necessity of corporate support for, or at least acquiescence to, liberal policies is not a new development in the history of American liberalism. Indeed it has been one of its hallmarks.

Roosevelt may be remembered for his combativeness toward corporations; he famously said, “I welcome their hatred.” But he said that in 1936, only after key New Deal legislation had passed with the help of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Bankers Association.

Early on, Roosevelt was quite adept at bargaining with corporations. In his first 100 days, to attract corporate support for the National Industrial Recovery Act, he won collective bargaining, minimum wages and maximum hours in exchange for a temporary suspension of antitrust law, so businesses could fix prices. To establish the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934, he made concessions to Wall Street that scrapped statutory requirements in favor of regulatory flexibility. The following year, to allow the Federal Reserve to better conduct monetary policy, he gave bankers representation on the policy committee.

Johnson also found little value in warring with corporations. He won a Keynesian tax cut in early 1964, defeating budget-conscious conservatives, thanks to a broad coalition that included corporations. He attracted business support to back his first antipoverty bill by junking plans to promote family farming and push businesses to hire long-term unemployed people. He created the Transportation Department, in 1966, only after exempting resistant shipping interests from its jurisdiction. He incited a new era of environmental protection, increasing federal responsibility for cleaning air and water, while defusing corporate opposition by trading away federal pollution standards.

Major economic national reform in this country has always required buying off entrenched interests that enormously influence the multiple veto points that can derail legislation. This is nothing to be happy about, but direct your complaints to James Madison.

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