Pages:
400

Designing a New America

The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890-1943
An investigation of the intellectual and political roots of a key New Deal institution

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In the United States, the idea of national planning has long been understood as a product of the Great Depression, part of the more general expansion of federal authority that characterized the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Yet as Patrick D. Reagan shows in this well-researched study, the origins of New Deal planning reach back much further than that. Beginning as early as 1890, a combination of intellectual and institutional developments—from the emergence of the social sciences as a guide to rational management to the reform efforts of the 1920s—prepared the way for the creation of the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB) in 1933. Reagan centers much of his analysis on the careers of five individuals who served on the NRPB during its ten years of existence: city and regional planner Frederic A. Delano; political scientist Charles E. Merriam; economist Wesley Clair Mitchell; business leader Henry S. Dennison; and philanthropic manager Beardsley Ruml. Drawing on their experiences in Progressive politics, mobilization for World War I, and the reform initiatives of the 1920s, these men steadily expanded the scope of national planning as advisers to the Roosevelt administration. During the Depression they joined in key debates over economic policy and executive branch reorganization, and during World War II they helped with plans for economic mobilization and proposed a vision for postwar America. Although abolished by Congress in 1943, the NRPB remains a symbol not only of New Deal hopes and ambitions, but of an enduring if ambivalent American faith in professional social and economic management.

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