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The New Deal by Paul K. Conkin

The New Deal policy is an invaluable experience, which is unprecedented not only in America but also in the world history and economic policy. The New Deal is constantly and a lot written about in the U.S. by historians, experts in the field of political science, economists, sociologists and lawyers. Naturally, the job profile in each case affects the coverage of the topic, but there are common elements significantly leveling institutional differences in the approaches to it. They include the look at the New Deal as at the period of welfare state establishment in the U.S. Disagreements on this issue, as summarized by a former adviser to President Roosevelt R. Moles, relate only to which stage of the New Deal, the first (1933-1935) or the second (1935-1938), we should refer the reincarnation of the U.S. into a society where the “strong” through taxation and public spending help the “weak” providing them with everything necessary for life support. Since in the literature Welfare State refers not only to the U.S., the New Deal is often depicted as the event in world history that had a decisive effect on the universal and characteristic of all advanced capitalist countries movement to this new type of country.

Speaking of Paul Conkin’s approach, it should be noted that he concentrates on Roosevelt his successes and fairies in the development of the New Deal legislation. The focus on Roosevelt’s personal role in the establishment of the new policy however makes the book look more like merely historic rather than giving economic oriented perspectives. This is clearly expressed through Conkin’s bright commentary: “The New Deal was an exceedingly personal enterprise. Its disparate programs were unified only by the personality of FDR” (Conkin 3-5).

In general, the book is different from the works of neo-liberals and goes under the heading of unorthodox researches on the New Deal in the Harvard bibliography. Compared with the products of the neo-liberal school dominant in American historiography, the tone of the research is purely critical. For example, some projects developed by the authorities in their scopes went far beyond any objective opportunities and administrative skills which were in their infancy. Others failed because of waste and corruption. Many were unprofitable. As a result, the internal improvements began to repel.

As a researcher of economic theories of the early period of American history, Conkin believed that the formation of a free capital market, the creation of new corporations, a growing distrust for the state enterprise radically changed the conditions, which previously forced businessmen to seek government intervention in their affairs.

However, in our opinion, the historian pays exaggerated attention to the personality of the 32nd US President. In contrast, his concrete postures of the New Deal policy are relegated to the background or completely ignored. From this perspective, a shift in the emphasis could be promoted by the dominance of the biographical genre of the historical literature on the “Roosevelt era”.

At the same time, there is a clear difference in approach, when Conkin’s work gets compared with other literature on the new deal. Thus, neo-liberal historians, just like political scientists, see in the reform the very evidence of supraclass nature of the American state, the neutrality of state institutions of authority; in their opinion, due to the New Deal, the U.S. was able to maintain its leading position in the democratic world. The conclusions which interface with the official propaganda statements are not unique even in respectable university editions. While in R. Hofstadter, for example, they are clothed in the graceful form of the phenomenon, in M. Anody, they are deprived of it (Hiltzik 132-33).

Criticism in the literature is also conducted from different, sometimes diametrically opposingpositions. If E. J. Robinson believes that President Roosevelt, having gone in the wake of “all kinds of radicals” knocked the U.S. out of rut and changed its mode of life for the worse, P. Conkin and other “New Left”, who declared of themselves in the wake of youth rebellion of 1960’s – early 1970’s, points to the superficial nature of the undertaken transformations and lost possibilities to carry out genuine reforms. Conkin sees guilt of neoliberals in their “presentism” (Conkin 56). While on the other hand, he also did not bother himself with developing positive interpretations of Roosevelt’s “new deal”, limiting himself to its negative assessment.

Still, at the end of the book, Conkin admits that what Roosevelt managed to do is to give hope and that this period of American history is one of the formative ones for the welfare state. He mentions: “The thirties could have been much better and much worse. Be a fair historian. FDR had intellectual limitations that hurt his cause, but strengths too. We want to use the past and be fair to it. Your criticism must be kind and also aimed towards your institutions and time. Your evaluation must be just, thorough, and honest; otherwise, you practice self-deceit” (Conkin 101).

On the whole, the book is effective for understanding the background of the New Deal policy and economic situation that led to the Great Depression. At the same time, the perspective shown by Conkin is rather historical, than economic, and allows the reader to see the historical dynamics and historical figures in details. Still, the book should be seen through the prism of the New Left movement, which gained its popularity the time of its creation.

Works Cited:

Conkin, Paul K. The New Deal. Harlan Davidson, 2002. Print.
Hiltzik, Michael. The New Deal: A Modern History. Free Press, 2011. Print.