Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #4 – Great Depression and New Deal


Eric Rauchway’s “Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction” touches on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s agenda to rebuild the American economy due to the Great Depression and the previous president Herbert Hoover’s failure to take a better stance on the economic recession.  Rauchway essentially expresses how this incident made Americans realize that the system in place did not work, and did not fully take into account all Americans. 


I thought this reading was pretty interesting and it raised my interest in how past events in some way, reoccur again.  I related the Great Depression, Hoover, Roosevelt, and the New Deal to the previous election with Trump and Biden.  At the beginning of the COVID – 19 pandemic Trump did not really put much concern or emphasis on how bad COVID – 19 actually was.  This is similar to Herbert Hoover’s downfall in which he followed laissez-faire and thought that the economy would improve on its own.  We see how in both cases, not taking on the problem directly and either ignoring or disregarding it inevitably made the problem worse.  Once Roosevelt and Biden took office their main goals were to take action immediately on the things that weren’t done.  This is why I think both Roosevelt and Biden won their elections.


From the reading, what really caught my interest was the Works Progress Administration.  Despite what the “A1939 Institute of Public Opinion poll” that Rauchway mentions, about “the worst thing the Roosevelt Administration has done,” (Rauchway, 2008).  I felt that the Works Progress Administration (WPA), was the most useful if it had been implemented correctly.  From the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in 1935, the PWA was created. With the unemployment rate being close to 25% when Roosevelt stepped into office, creating jobs I think, was very important.  Without jobs, people were not spending money or using credit and this affected the banks. With no income, people couldn’t afford to keep their houses which brought the homeless rate up, and things like Hooverville were created, and ultimately deflation occurred.  As Rauchway states, “With WPA, Hopkins once more hired millions, and put them to work building hospitals, schools, playgrounds, and airports.” (Rauchway, 2008).  This led to a large number of buildings and facilities be created that we still use today.  The WPA was created as a quick method to reduce the unemployment rate, despite hiring mainly unskilled workers and “mild political corruption” (Rauchway, 2008), which led to overpriced projects. I think that this was a great idea.  I wonder if the WPA had been correctly implemented, and political corruption did not occur, what would be the outcome, and would that 23% of Americans have a change in opinion about the WPA?


One thought on “Blog Post #4 – Great Depression and New Deal”

  1. A thoughtful post; I’m glad you found the reading interesting. I agree, Rauchway really has a way of making this stuff accessible and understandable… I think there’s some truth to your comparison between the elections of 1932 and 2020, but be careful of overdrawing historical parallels!

    You miss a significant point about the public response to the WPA. The same poll that Rauchway cites the found 23% saying the WPA was the worst thing about the New Deal also found 28% saying it was the best thing about it! It’s interesting to consider whether this poll result points to a level of polarization over some of the more controversial ND programs that may be similar to what we have today, or whether people were just confused. But Rauchway seems to suggest that the benefits of the WPA and similar public works programs outweighed the negatives.

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