Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FDR's New Deal Makes A Strong Case For The Public Option

Adam Cohen, in "Roosevelt Understood the Power of a Public Option," makes a strong case for the ways in which FDR's New Deal programs met the basic needs of millions. They also kept private industry honest while not destroying it–despite criticism that echoes the rants about "socialism" today. Roosevelt's public power program parallels current calls for a public option, a government-run health insurance program:

When he ran for president in 1932, Roosevelt made public power a cornerstone of his campaign. In a speech in Portland, Ore., he explained that it could be a “birch rod in the cupboard,” which the citizenry could use to punish private power companies that were gouging the public or not providing good service. Critics accused Roosevelt of Bolshevism, but he was not deterred. Public power was no more radical, he said, than the public mail.

The public power program was similar to other programs initiated by FDR that serve the public to this day, despite reactionary rhetoric against government initiatives:

The whole New Deal was in a sense just a series of public options, some more optional than others, that offered government as an alternative to the often-flawed private market. The Farm Credit Administration and the Home Owners’ Loan Act used government funds to save farms and homes of Americans who would have been foreclosed on by private lenders. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation saved the private banking system by insuring savings accounts, which made the public willing to put money back in private banks. Social Security, all public and no option, rescued older Americans from living their final years in poverty.

The public option could perform the same function as programs that FDR championed:

A public option for health care could work much like the yardstick Roosevelt envisioned public power becoming. A publicly run health care program could compete with private insurance companies, which have a record of overcharging and underperforming.

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