I ran across this quote today in Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Sixty Days and Counting”. How true it is again today.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Acceptance Speech for the Renomination for the Presidency, Philadelphia, Pa. – June 27th, 1936
It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.
The savings of the average family, the capital of the small business man, the investments set aside for old age—other people’s money—these were tools which the new economic royalty used to dig itself in.
Those who tilled the soil no longer reaped the rewards which were their right. The small measure of their gains was decreed by men in distant cities.
Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.
An old English judge once said: “Necessitous men are not free men.” Liberty requires opportunity to make a living—a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.
For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.
Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government.
The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the Government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody’s business. They granted that the Government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the Government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.
Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.
These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.
Robinson’s character, Phil Chase, as president of the United States, then continues:
But then we forgot again. We went back to imagining that things could only be as they were. We lived on in that strange new feudalism, in ways that were unjust and destructive and yet were presented as the only possible reality. We said, “people are like that”, or “human nature will never change” or “we are all guilty of original sin, or “this is democracy, this is the free market, this is reality itself.” And we went along with that analysis, and it became the law of the land. The entire world was legally bound to accept this feudal injustice as law. It was global and so it looked like it was universal. The future itself was bought, in the form of debts, mortgages, contracts — all spelled out by law and enforced by police and armies. Alternatives were unthinkable. Even to say things could be otherwise would get you immediately branded as unrealistic, foolish, naive, insane, utopian.
But that was all delusion. Every few years things change completely, even though we can’t quite remember how it happened or what it means. Change is real and unavoidable. And we can organize our affairs any way we please. There is no physical restraint on us. We are free to act. It is a fearsome thing, this freedom, so much so that people talk about a “flight from freedom” — that we fly into cages and hide, because freedom is so profound it’s kind of an abyss. To actually choose in each moment how to live is too scary to endure.
So we lived like sleepwalkers. But the world is not asleep, and outside our dream, things continued to change. Trying to shape that change is not a bad thing. Some pretend that making a plan is instant communism and the devil’s work, but it isn’t so. We always have a plan. Free market economics is a plan — it plans to give all decisions over to the blind hand of the market. But the blind hand never picks up the check. And you know — it’s blind. To deal with the global environmental crisis we now face without making any more plan than tot rust the market would be like saying, “We have to solve this problem so first let’s put out our eyes.” Why? Why not use our eyes? Why not use our brains?
Because we’re going to have to imagine our way out of this one.