Hillary Clinton, the New FDR?

Popular Economics Weekly

Even President Obama, among others, has said Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified presidential candidates ever. And she has been advocating a new New Deal for America, including tuition-free public universities and colleges, paid maternity leave, child care, expanded social security and Medicare benefits, as well as more public investment at a time when the private sector has severely cut back on productive investment of any kind.

She would also be our first female president. So how should we compare her to FDR, our father figure during the Great Depression and WWII, at a time of economic suffering from the second worst depression we have just lived through?

What is little know is that the major New Deal programs created during the Great Depression, including Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the 40-yr work week, were designed and created by a female Labor Secretary, Francis Perkins, whom he had brought with him from his New York state governorship.

During her term as Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1946, Secretary Perkins created the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration (WPA), and the labor portion of the National Recovery Industrial Act. With the Social Security Act, she established unemployment benefits and pensions for the many uncovered elderly Americans, and welfare for the poorest Americans. She pushed to reduce workplace accidents and helped craft laws against child labor. Through the Fair Labor Standards Act, she established the first minimum age and overtime laws for American workers, and defined the standard forty-hour work week.

Yes, Francis Perkins, a woman, was the real designer and implementer of most of the New Deal programs, without which we would not have weathered the Great Depression with enough economic strength to win WWII.

So might Hillary Clinton provide a similar vision for America during these divided times when so much of the rest of the world wants what we have? Her drive to provide tuition-free public colleges is a first step.

The now $1 trillion in student debt is holding back economic growth, for starters. It prevents students from investing in their future growth, such as a profession they prefer, rather than continuing to pay for the past investment in themselves. It has held back the number of college graduate that both earn higher salaries and are more fully employed than non-college graduates.

A recent NBER Working Paper by economist Enrico Moretti, showed a percentage point increase in the supply of college graduates raises high school drop-outs’ wages by 1.9 percent, high school graduates’ wages by 1.6 percent, and college graduates wages by 0.4 percent. The effect is larger for less educated groups, as predicted by a conventional demand and supply model. But even for college graduates, an increase in the supply of college graduates increases wages, as predicted by a model that includes conventional demand and supply factors as well as spillovers, said Dr. Moretti.


Graph: CAP

It is particularly important that the United States increases its investment in postsecondary education in the face of rising competition from its international peers, and having government take on the burden of public university debt is a first step. As recently as 1996, the United States had the second highest share of adults who had earned postsecondary education credentials and the highest share of adults with university degrees, in part because there was little or no tuition until the 1970s, when governments began to cut back on their share of state university funding, which was then taken up by rising tuition fees.

More recently, however, America’s level of achievement has fallen behind other nations. In 2012, the most recent year measured, the United States ranked fifth in the percentage of adults who had earned postsecondary education credentials, according to the Center for American Progress. Even more worrisome, the share of young Americans—those between the ages of 25 and 34—with postsecondary credentials has dropped to 12th relative to other nations, while those possessing university degrees fell to 14th.

What makes Hillary so qualified? President Roosevelt had a history of public service, first as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, then New York Governor, before serving as our President from 1932-45. Hillary has had 30 years of service, including as a State Senator, Secretary of State, and First Lady. And such a broad record of service is what it will take to even begin to heal our fractured society.

Harlan Green © 2016

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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