FDR’s Bill of Economic Rights

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation
    Comment: Notice the specific types of employment that FDR had in mind when he mentioned an economic right to a job. It was not just any job. And it wasn’t necessarily a job you (necessarily) wanted.[1] Rather, it was limited to “industries[,] shops[,] farms[,] [and] mines.” These jobs, when we reflect on them, are typically: manual-labor intensive (depending on the industry/shop but typically across the board for farms and mines), involve long hours (beyond the standard 8-hour workday that is commonplace today), offer little pay (in comparison to, say, jobs in the technology industry), etc. Suffice it to say that part of the problem with this first economic right, as it is initially proposed by FDR, is that it is no longer in-tune with the contemporary economic landscape. That is to say, we have fewer farms, mines, and even shops than we used to (all things considered). Instead, we have increasingly flexible and immaterial economic structures in place (e.g. the ‘gig’ economy). This right needs to drop the second half of the clause and redefine what it means by ‘useful and remunerative.’

  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation
    Comment: There are two key components to this second economic right: equality of opportunity and the “pulling yourself up by your (own) bootstraps” myth (also known as the myth of self-sufficiency). Notice the emphasis on the term earn. Individuals (and families) are expected to contribute to society. They are not allowed to be an overdrawn case of charity. Moreover, the term earn stipulates a possible explanation and mechanism as for why some individuals succeed and others don’t: earning-power or the capacity to earn (e.g. whatever earn means is context-dependent upon the structure/function of the job). In essence, if someone doesn’t earn enough, they, perhaps, didn’t try enough (or hard enough), either an inadequacy or an insufficiency in effort, knowledge, or both. Regardless, it sets up a kind of victim-blaming feature into the economic bill of rights itself.
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living
    Comment: Again, this may have been more of a pressing concern in FDR’s time, but this is not as relevant now (insofar as it applies exclusively to farmers). If we broaden the scope of the first part of the clause to be citizens, then it is more defensible and worthy of retaining. Otherwise, conceptually, this and the first economic right can be consolidated. #OckhamsRazor
  • 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
    Comment: This one I agree with (in theory). I think there are more important things left to be said about curtailing the power of companies/corporations while also augmenting the scope and degree of their legal, social, and economic responsibilities. But, for now, it is a good placeholder for further discussion.
  • The right of every family to a decent home
    Comment: While I really like this economic right, unless there is a severe shortage of human beings and/or it becomes unbelievably cheap to construct houses (i.e. fully-functional, approved, and with the appropriate/necessary licenses, permits, and legal documentation), this is simply not pragmatically feasible. What was smart, however, was not stipulating location (or defining ‘decent,’ but the devil’s always in the details). The government, in theory, could give you a wonderful home, something that far exceeds decent…except that it is located in Alaska. Or Arizona. Or New Jersey. Whichever one is farthest away from you now. Some would have no problem with this. Others would, perhaps rightfully, feel duped.
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment
    Comment: Here, FDR seems to lump two distinct flavors together (at least to our modern political tastes). The first is governmental economic assistance when one has, presumably, retired (i.e. ‘old age’ though his use of the term likely encompasses the totality of that age span, not just an individual’s economic status). But this deals with MediCare, Social Security payouts, and various economic discounts offered to the elderly. Sickness, accident, and unemployment, however, is typically reserved for the midst of an individual’s economic life (so to speak). The latter is chronologically after the former. It’s not a big deal, but the distinction has to be drawn for proper analysis.

[1]: To be clear, I am wondering why anyone with any semblance of rationality would ever desire to be a farmer or a rancher or a miner, but I am acknowledging it as a logical possibility.

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