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America's History in the Making

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Oral History Interview with Gardiner C. Means

"At the beginning of the New Deal, they called it a revolution. Then they began to say it wasn't a revolution. Our institutions were being shored up and maintained. What really happened was a revolution in point of view. We backed into the twentieth century describing our actual economy in terms of small enterprises of the nineteenth century.

We were an economy of huge corporations, with a high degree of concentrated control. It was an economy that was in no sense described by classical theory. What Roosevelt and the New Deal did was to turn about and face the realities …

Before that Hoover would loan money to farmers to keep their mules alive, but wouldn't loan money to keep their children alive. This was perfectly right within the framework of classical thinking. If an individual couldn't get enough to eat, it was because he wasn't on the ball. It was his responsibility. The New Deal said: Anybody who is unemployed isn't necessarily unemployed because he's shiftless.

… Laissez-faire as such did not come to an end with the New Deal. We still have a tremendous amount of freedom of decision-making in the individual corporate enterprise. The new element is the government's positive responsibility for making our economy run."

Studs Terkel, interview with Gardiner C. Means, The Studs Terkel Program, WFMT, Chicago, 1971.

Creator Gardiner C. Means and Raymond Moley
Context 1971 oral history interviews with Roosevelt's advisors during the Great Depression
Audience Readers of Hard Times and listeners to "The Studs Terkel Program"
Purpose To show the views of Roosevelt's advisors in implementing New Deal policies and programs

Historical Significance

Studs Terkel conducted hundreds of oral history interviews for his book on the Depression, and later used some of these interviews for "The Studs Terkel Program" on WFMT radio in Chicago. The first interview is with Gardiner C. Means, who served as the economic adviser on finance to Henry Wallace, the secretary of agriculture. Means explains his perspective on how the New Deal changed the economy of the United States. The second interview is with Raymond Moley. Moley was a founding member and leader of the "Brain Trust," a group of economists and professors who served as Roosevelt's advisers. Although some newspaper editorials and political cartoons portrayed the Brain Trust as idealists, these men helped to formulate the policies of the first New Deal. Moley supported cooperation between business and government, and leaned to the right in his views on New Deal policies.

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