Do We Really Want Another FDR?

Roosevelt with Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas and other dignitaries in Brazil, 1936. Photograph Source: Unknown author – Public Domain

The failure of even the slightest form of Keynesian for the working class to pass shows how dire our political situation is today. There are misconceptions about who to blame and this too could lead to an even greater political disaster. Much of the public will blame solely the Democrats, and pundits warn this ensures victory for Republicans.

The media though has been the ones promoting the concept of a dysfunctional Democratic Party. The alternative media are known as the Trumpenleft also peddles the same obsession with only one of the corporate duopoly parties. For them, it’s only the Democrats to blame, at times even especially the progressive Democrats. This like much of their misinformation will make a real-world impact but they don’t care as long as the checks keep coming in.

So if their predictions of a return of the Right come true, they are to blame.

I’m not so sure this will happen. My guess is the Right will continue to get less popular and continue to find other non-democratic paths to victory. Political commentators often miss that the populace is not moving further to the Right, it’s just that our politics are becoming less democratic.

As for Joe Biden, I am once again not sure why the media is so keen to anoint Trump 2024, other than for their own benefit. Joe Biden has failed to deliver on just about every campaign promise but this isn’t news. Nobody, especially Joe Biden, ever had any expectations for Joe Biden.

For those of us who know Joe Biden, doing nothing is not a failure, but a relief.

A corporate Democrat is nothing new. It was in fact what Biden ran on. Those who claimed Biden was the next FDR were always peddling a right-wing talking point. The point of this misinformation wasn’t just to mobilize people against Biden, which he could do if Left alone for ten minutes, but rather to create expectations that he would fail to meet. The elephant in the room is that even the populist Right, if such a thing exists, wants a Left-wing economic agenda that Biden won’t deliver.

The only thing new about the failure of the Biden administration has been the branding of socialism by people to both his left and right. For the Right, it has become part of the greater conspiracy but for the Left, it has become equally nebulous. What it means beyond FDR style Keynesian is unclear.

For better or worse we are past the questions raised by Keynes and at the questions raised by Marx. The progressive Democrats have been the headline of late. The obstruction by Republicans and the bullying of the Left by corporate Democrats are things we are used to by now. What was supposed to be new was a progressive electoral push. But the progressives never played their hand.

Could this be because they are still understanding power under the umbrellas of FDR, Keynes and social democracy rather than Marxism?

In Marxism, politicians don’t generate value by printing money. Workers generate value through their labor. The misconception of neoliberalism is that the government has disappeared during this time. That may be the mantra but the reality is that the state has never had more power and it intervenes constantly on behalf of the ruling class.

What the progressives miss is that printing money for the working class will quickly be extracted by the ruling class and after the business cycle the workers often end up poorer than they were in the first place. FDR faced this possibility in 1937 and he wisely intervened for a second time. Without price or wage controls, there is little sense in adding more money to the economy especially when no one is willing to tax the rich to offset the inflation.

This is not to say the working class is not in dire need of the Build Back Better plan. But the question of why it can’t be passed is related to the question of why it isn’t enough. The idea of Keynesianism is that each crisis of capitalism could be managed by the government. It is its own form of moderation, a word we hear a lot these days.

But what happens when the ruling class has more power than the working class? Can the government be expected to act in a rational way in this scenario? Or is it more likely that policy will be for the rich and not guided by its own theory?

The working class has gained leverage recently by withholding their labor and winning raises, thus proving the power of labor in Marx. Some economists have argued that the recent Keynesian for the working class was the reason workers felt confident but I have to ask what on earth did the politicians give workers on their own in this time? Just like in all economic crises of late the pandemic crisis yielded a widening of inequality. The government actively took the side of the ruling class, again.

Why couldn’t the progressives stand up to this? Adolph Reed argues that the progressives have a movement around electoral politics and this was why they had no real left-wing base (not that the progressives even found out if this was true).

The success of FDR’s Keynesian was largely through war and this continues today. Military spending continues to be a prime objective in order to keep the economy going, which is always the goal of Keynesians. By investing in the military the idea is crisis can be avoided by controlling the masses abroad and at home when necessary and seizing resources to redistribute to the consumer class. As long as capital continues to be moved, profit can be gained and it can be shuffled into the hands of the ruling class.

We have all heard the phrase trickle-down economics and this is the double-edged sword of Keynesianism. Investing in the working class directly could have a stimulating effect but so would investing in the ruling class who face a declining rate of profit. The ruling class continues to get more and more wealth but their rate of profit as technology advances declines which means the economy will stall. Investing in this class means more growth and more inequality both. By avoiding an immediate crisis one can make the next crisis worse and the old crisis permanent, but who’s counting?

Marx recognized that value was social and could not be determined by policy, at least in any progressive sense. Such a definition of value is recognized by the pipeline protestors who stop the labor of the pipelines in order to save the planet. This directly hurts the company but the government intervenes and for what purpose? By spending money on the police to shoot protestors the idea is the pipeline will create profit and therefore keep the economy flowing.

At some point we have to recognize the permanent state of crisis we are in. This is not so much even economic but primarily ecological and secondarily social. While investments in the working class would have been nice, we should look for reasons why such an approach was ineffective. This goes beyond blaming only the progressives as a form of misinformation to empower the Republicans.

We should rather examine why their failure was inevitable under a Keynesian definition of value. The end of crisis will mean overcoming the profit motive. The rate of profit continues to decline leading to crisis amongst both the working class and ruling class.

John T. Flynn argued that the New Deal had put itself in the position of needing permanent crisis, particularly permanent war. FDR openly praised Mussolini for his modernization projects. Again this sort of analysis is not to blame FDR solely, for he is the best President in American history but rather to seriously ask why it is not possible to get his popular programs passed now.

The answer is that the working class is disempowered. Labor is no longer producing enough profit in the United States as much of capital as become speculative and not productive. As a result the government intervenes on behalf of the donor class to avoid collapse. Inflation may have some good effects as the economy is being kept afloat by massive accumulation of both personal and government debt.

However, as long as the mode of production continues to aim for profit we will continue to find it falling short of its own goals and state intervention will follow. This is not because workers can’t create profit, but because owners can’t make it. Therefore the logic of the rich needing help is consistent with capitalism, showing the absurdity of such a system.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at