Harry Hopkins’ presumptuous dream

Writing Medicaid Pauperism reminded me of a quote from Harry Hopkins, who significantly administrated some of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, written in 1936:

Communities now find themselves in possession of improvements which even in 1929 they would have thought themselves presumptuous to dream of…[but] everywhere there had been an overhauling of the word presumptuous. We are beginning to wonder if it is not presumptuous to take for granted that some people should have much, and some should have nothing; that some people are less important than others and should die earlier; that the children of the comfortable should be taller and fatter, as a matter of right, than the children of the poor.

The passage comes from Francis Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward’s Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare.

The author’s punchy follow-up was “Harry Hopkins was wrong.” There was no such reckoning of the inequality that persisted in spite of public relief programs. For the able-bodied and non-white population life was still a grueling survival tale in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

It’s true that Roosevelt’s New Deal was bold and established still-existing fundamental norms of public goods. Yet while it teased Hopkin’s idea of reassuming our presumptions it ultimately stepped away from further radical realignments. For nearly every advancement of public relief there was retrenchment towards barbarism for the marginalized. That basic cycle has effectively continued through today.


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