The FDR Economic Bill of Rights, Relevant Then and Now

I recently stumbled across a blog post titled “An Economic Bill of Rights for the 21st Century”. It led me to look up the original text for the”Economic Bill of Rights” introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s during his 1944 State of the Union speech.

I found the 1944 SOTU to be interesting, and recommend reading the entire speech, giving consideration to it’s time in history. World War II was still going on, but FDR is looking to the future of the nation. His Economic Bill of Rights gave voice to his vision for a post-war America.

The ideas, jobs for all, a living wage for a decent living, adequate medical care, and the right to a good education, resonate with my political leanings. These seems like ideas that all American citizens could stand behind – and I know that is a naive thing to say.

I know that my more right leaning friends will find things in FDR’s words to pick apart. Does the phrase “right to a useful and remunerative job” mean providing government jobs for all who find themselves out of work? Does providing jobs for all, remove the personal initiative to succeed, and result in more people on the dole? Maybe it is possible to find common ground in the ideal that jobs, good wages, healthcare, and education, are good for the nation, and that policies aimed towards those “rights” are something we can agree on. Even if we don’t agree on how to achieve them.

I know that the devil is in the details. But I feel that the “rights” presented by FDR to the nation are just as relevant today as they were in 1944.  So read them and let me know what you think. I look forward to the dialog.

The excerpted words follow:

“This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.”

“As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

“In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.”

“Among these are:”

“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;”

“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;”

“The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;”

“The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;”

“The right of every family to a decent home;”

“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;”

“The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;”

“The right to a good education.”

“All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.”

“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

American Prospect Article – An Economic Bill of Rights for the 21st Century, by Mark Paul, William Darity Jr., and Darrick Hamilton

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