Blogs > Liberty and Power > Blacks Versus the New Deal

Dec 18, 2006

Blacks Versus the New Deal

Quite some time ago, I mentioned that I had come across some fascinating cartoons by"L. Rogers" in The Chicago Defender which were highly critical of the New Deal. The Defender was the leading black newspaper in the United States.

As David Bernstein and Jim Powell have pointed out, the minimum wage and other regulations of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) created incentives for white racists to discriminate against low wage black labor.

Many of Rogers' cartoons show a good understanding of this as well as perceptive appreciation of the unintended consequences of legislation on human behavior. Perhaps he read Frederic Bastiat.

In the cartoon (see above) from January 27, 1934, the first panel shows a father telling his wife and family cheerily:"Dear, the old factory is now a member of the 'NRA' which means I'll get better wages and better hours."

The second panel shows the father and other dejected workers standing outside a closed factory under a sign reading"NOTICE: Under the 'NRA' this factory shall advance wages and minimize hours of all employes. Henceforth we shall employ white help only."

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Clayton Earl Cramer - 10/4/2004

The first laws that become what we call apartheid were measures that limited certain jobs to white South Africans. Like the New Deal, these measures were passed to help poor whites, by limiting competition from black workers. Racism and well-intentioned efforts to help the poor (at least, if they were of the right race or ethnicity) are often part of the same movement. Look at the 1879 California Constitution's Article 13, which effectively fired all Chinese working for the state government, local governments, and all contractors.

David T. Beito - 9/30/2004

I will check out the Cox book.

Unfortunately, the recently published collected Hurston letters (which have several gaps) don't show any connection. If Hurston met Lane or Paterson, it was probably through someone like George Schuyler. During the early 1950s, she was involved in anti-Communism activity with Schuyler. Hurston, of course, also wrote a very positive article on Taft (who she interviewed) for the Saturday Evening Post in 1951.

Kenneth R Gregg - 9/29/2004

Sorry David, I don't recall the name of the newspaper offhand. It was in the footnotes in one of the two books on Lane by William Holtz: "Ghost in the Little House" (pretty sure it was in this one) or his collection of letters between Lane and Dorothy Thompson, "Dorothy Thompson and Rose Wilder Lane: Forty Years of Friendship". I'll have to pull the book from my stacks and get back to you.

The new biography on Paterson by Stephen Cox, "The Woman and the Dynamo", is quite good, by the way, on the connections between her, Lane and Rand. Hurston isn't mentioned, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that Hurston read Paterson's column and books, as well as Lane's books. Cox overemphasizes a few points and misses a couple of connections. He discusses the use of the "energy concept" by Lane and Paterson, but doesn't cover its use in Carl Snyder's "Capitalism and the Creator" (Snyder called his economics, "techtonics"), even though he does mention Snyder's influence, and appears completely unaware of the other major "energy concept" theoretician, Spencer Heath, who influenced Murray Rothbard, Andrew Galambos, Spencer MacCallum (his grandson) and developer of the proprietary community concept.

Done a lot of work on the "energy concept" as libertarians used it and I believe that it was a natural alternative to the "rights talk" of the previous generation, which had been largely discredited by modern philosophy and no longer acceptable in many circles.

Just a thought.

David T. Beito - 9/29/2004

No, I am not. Do you remember the name of the paper? BTW, I have always been struck between the parallels between Zora Neale Hurston, Lane, Paterson, and Rand, but I have never found evidence that Hurston knew of them or they knew of her.

Kenneth R Gregg - 9/29/2004

As I recall, Rose Wilder Lane wrote a regular column in a black newspaper (in the '40's?). Are you aware of any exchange between Lane and any black writers?

David T. Beito - 9/29/2004

Very good. I'll put it up with my next post. I am planning to put up more anti-New Deal cartoons from the Chicago Defender in the next few days.

David T. Beito - 9/29/2004


I completely agree with you. By unintended consequences, I was primarily thinking of well meaning people, including blacks, who initially thought otherwise and/or had a poor understanding of economics.

Kenneth R Gregg - 9/28/2004

You might be interested in this article by Tom Rustici in the Cato Journal, "A Public Choice View of the Minimum Wage": http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj5n1/cj5n1-6.pdf
Rustici is quite good in the latter portions of his paper in analyzing both the racial aspects of minimum wage laws and in covering the North-South divisions (northerners making the case for minimum wage--pricing the newly-emerging southern industries out of business so as to protect themselves from competition).
Just a thought.
Ken Gregg

Charles Johnson - 9/28/2004

Thanks, David--excellent stuff to chew on. But I have trouble agreeing with you that the racist use of New Deal programs in the South was an unintended consequence. For all the good things that Eleanor Roosevelt had to say, Franklin was dependent upon, and an unswerving ally of, the Democratic Party of the South; the New Deal was as much the product of the Southern Democrats' populism as it was any sort of Yankee left-liberalism. And, of course, during the 1930s and 1940s, the Democratic Party in the South was the organized lobby of militant white supremacy. The Representatives and Senators of the Jim Crow South made explicitly racist arguments for programs such as the NRA and the minimum wage, just as their populist governors had expanded the welfare state in order to support poor whites and ally them with rich whites in maintaining white supremacy. It's not like Franklin Roosevelt and the other architects of the New Deal didn't know this; and they never showed any signs of thinking that it might be a problem for their program.

There's lots of unintended consequences in history; but sometimes people really do mean to be bastards.