History's Lessons: FDR and Public Welfare Programs

Apr 18, 2005


Dr. Price Fishback
Professor of Economics
University of Arizona 

With reports of dwindling funds and potential changes, the future of the Social Security system is uncertain at best.  In order to better understand the future of Social Security, it is important to understand where it came from. 

Prior to the New Deal, almost all public social welfare spending, or what contemporaries called "relief," was provided by local governments.  The administration of local public relief had long been associated with patronage, political manipulation, and corruption.  Surprisingly, however, while the administration of public relief was widely regarded as corrupt before 1933, the modern federal/state public welfare system that developed out of the New Deal reforms is often castigated as bureaucratic, but rarely corrupt.  What changed?  How did the country enter the Depression with a public welfare system riddled with political manipulation and emerge with one that was not?

Please join us for our next installment of the Distinguished Scholars Breakfast Series, in which we welcome Dr. Price Fishback, Professor of Economics at the University of Arizona.  Dr. Fishback will present his research on public welfare systems, specifically Social Security, within President Roosevelt’s New Deal package. 

Join us as we look to answer:

  • What were President Roosevelt’s stated goals for Social Security in 1935 and how did those goals change in 1939?  What caused the change? 
  • What role did bureaucratization play in the administration of public welfare before the New Deal?  What was its role afterwards?
  • What, if any, are the parallels to modern social welfare programs?  How does today’s Social Security program measure up to what FDR designed it to be?