Evaluating the impact of the Great Depression and the New Deal means looking at them from a variety of perspectives. Economically, the Great Depression was devastating in its time, but the nation has long since recovered. Economically, the New Deal helped ease, but did not end the Depression. From a social perspective, the Depression hurt all Americans, especially minorities, and the New Deal helped many, and after initially leaving many minorities out, ultimately helped lift women and ethnic minorities. In the realm of social justice, perhaps most significantly the New Deal ended the culturally destructive policy of assimilation forced upon Native Americans.
So, was the New Deal a good deal? If we measure it against its ultimate goal – ended the Depression – then it failed. Perhaps Hoover and Taft were right. Perhaps Americans would have eventually pulled themselves out of the Depression without government help. Few economists would be willing to argue this today, however.
If we try to answer our question by looking at the lasting impact, the New Deal comes out looking more successful. Programs like the National Labor Relations Board, FDIC, and Social Security remain important protections even today. Some of the New Deal projects like the Golden Gate Bridge or TVA continue to make an impact and serve as useful reminders that government can have a positive impact on daily life.
Of course, some at the time believed the New Deal did not go far enough, Senator Long being the most prominent. What if Roosevelt and his New Dealers had implemented a system of universal healthcare along with Social Security? What if they had gone ahead and raised taxes on the rich to levels that would have created a more equal society? Would that have been better than the New Deal Roosevelt was ultimately able to enact?
What do you think? Was the New Deal a good deal?