In January 1945, just three months before his death, FDR gave his 4th inaugural address. Most of it dealt with issues of war and peace. But, the last section tried to link the causes of the horrible war that was winding down to broader issues of democratic governance – and to the future of the New Deal. He argued that societies plagued by hunger, poverty, unemployment, and other social ills will always be fertile ground for dictatorship. The President called for a bold form of inoculation against this vulnerability: An expanded social contract in which no American would ever again have to worry about lacking the basic comforts that are the building blocks of economic opportunity. That speech segment and those rights have come to be known as “FDR’s 2nd Bill of Right” or, sometimes, as the Economic or Workers Bill of Rights. He called on Congress to get to work ensuring their implementation.
The speech listed eight economic rights (although FDR was careful to add that his list was not meant to be exhaustive, and that it was up to the legislature to provide them; i.e., he did not say these rights should be added to the Constitution): The eight were the right:
- To a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- To earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- Of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- Of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- Of every family to a decent home;
- To adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- To adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- To a good education.
Since then, FDR’s 2nd Bill of Rights have been the rallying cry of liberals, even if most these days probably have never heard the term. And, some of it has been achieved, such as universal K-12 education and an at least weak government commitment to full employment, Although President Obama has never uttered the words, he has advanced the cause of the 2nd Bill of Rights by passing the 60 year-old goal of universal health insurance.
Jim Z. wanted us to talk about whether we are still moving forward on economic rights. I think we should also discuss whether Americans really want all this – or at least want them enough to be willing to pay for them. On Monday I’ll briefly list the economic rights FDR mentioned and quickly summarize the conventional wisdom on where our system is now on providing them. Then,
Discussion Questions –
- What is FDR’s 2nd bill of rights? In what context did he call for its enactment?
- What’s is the difference between calling these “rights” versus just nice things to have?
- To what extent do Americans have economic rights in 2013? If some do, who in our country does not have them these them?
- To what extent do we want economic rights and already expect our government to help us achieve economic opportunity?
- What are the basic critiques of economic rights? Affordability? Economic efficiency and its affects on growth? Moral? Which do you find credible and which overblown?
- So, what’s next? Will the U.S. social contract keep expanding, or not?
- Brief Wiki explanation of FDR’s 2bd Bill of Rights.
- A former high-level White House advisor argues that President Obama is attempting to expand the social contract in the direction of more economic rights.
- In fact, this guy wrote the book on FDR’s 2nd Bill of Rights. A sympathetic, liberal review of it is here.
- Brief, modern conservative critique of the idea of economic rights.
- Basic liberal case for economic rights. What makes this interesting is that it argues that economic rights should be supported because they expand freedom, rather than destroy them, as conservatives say.
NEXT WEEK: Why is the Left ascendant in Latin America?
(note: Post updated for clarity after initial posting.)