Thursday, March 5, 2009

FDR on Social Security

The Social Security Administration has put together a small online collection of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speeches and messages relating to Social Security, illustrating his comprehensive vision--and his expert instruction--on the theme that the great goal is to restore security, and that this is to be accomplished by interlinked programs of relief, reform, and recovery. For a variety of practical, political reasons, FDR left comprehensive, universal, single-payer national health insurance out of his Social Security package, though he was very clear that all of the arguments supporting Social Security and unemployment insurance applied in the area of health insurance as well, and that eventually we would have to get around to it. He was never able to do that, and it has not happened -- yet. Maybe this time.

We live in different times, and yet it is remarkable how close the themes of FDR and his opponents are to the debates going on today, in policy and politics.

Here are some excerpts from his message to Congress of June 8, 1934, when he had been in office for fifteen months, introducing the idea of social security insurance:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "Message to Congress Reviewing the Broad Objectives and Accomplishments of the Administration," June 8, 1934.

You and I, as the responsible directors of these policies and actions, may, with good reason, look to the future with confidence, just as we may look to the past fifteen months with reasonable satisfaction.

On the side of relief we have extended material aid to millions of our fellow citizens.

On the side of recovery we have helped to lift agriculture and industry from a condition of utter Prostration.

But, in addition to these immediate tasks of relief and of recovery we have properly, necessarily and with overwhelming approval determined to safeguard these tasks by rebuilding many of the structures of our economic life and reorganizing it in order to prevent a recurrence of collapse.

It is childish to speak of recovery first and reconstruction afterward. In the very nature of the processes of recovery we must avoid the destructive influences of the past. We have shown the world that democracy has within it the elements necessary to its own salvation. . . .

Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women and children of the Nation first.

This security for the individual and for the family concerns itself primarily with three factors. People want decent homes to live in; they want to locate them where they can engage in productive work; and they want some safeguard against misfortunes which cannot be wholly eliminated in this man-made world of ours. . . .

These three great objectives the security of the home, the security of livelihood, and the security of social insurance--are, it seems to me, a minimum of the promise that we can offer to the American people. They constitute a right which belongs to every individual and every family willing to work. They are the essential fulfillment of measures already taken toward relief, recovery and reconstruction.

FDR's Statements on Social Security at

More documents on FDR speeches and papers at the American Presidency Project and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

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