Monday, January 31, 2011

Roosevelt's 1944 call for an 'Economic Bill of Rights' is still relevant, especially for the South

In the wake of the country's most recent recession and war, should Americans turn to the 66-year-old advice of a former president for improving the economy? During his state of the union address on Jan. 11, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a second Bill of Rights, guaranteeing the right to a useful job, the right to earn enough money to provide food, clothing and recreation, the right of every business to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition, the right to adequate health care, the right to protection in old age and the right to an education. Ferrel Guillory, director of The Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Richard Hart, communications director at MDC, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit dedicated to advancing economic and educational opportunity writes about Roosevelt's speech for The Anniston Star(Photo from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

"So why recall Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union?" Guillory and Hart ask. "Because 2011 is developing into a year of reckoning — a moment of difficult decisions that cry out for leaders focused on equity, opportunity and competitiveness in arming the nation’s people and their communities for coping with a time of disruption." Guillory and Hart argue that too many Americans are not truly free in the face of financial insecurity. A growing group of young adults without the skills to get an education or better job are in even worse shape.

"We need to fix an education system bound by early industrial-era structures at a time when we need schools to prepare young people for coping with a 21st century of life-long learning," Guillory and Hart write, noting that "across the South and the nation, a community’s skill levels will determine its economic prospects." The two writers call for regional collaboration that goes "beyond the urban/rural/city/state boundaries that now constrain our thinking." Guillory and Hart conclude, "However difficult our current economic moment, it is an opportunity for leaders who would seize it to chart a course, not for a return to an old 'normal,' but toward a more prosperous society, more widely shared. That’s what FDR was trying to do. And it’s what we need today." (Read more)

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has more information about the speech. The MDC report, State of the South, is also available.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

I think part of the problem with that would be providing a "useful job." The government could provide jobs, but it couldn't necessarily make them useful, especially if the aim is 100 percent employment.