Social Security: Interpretation 1

Carl Degler

"The Third American Revolution"

Historian Carl Degler argued that the New Deal was revolutionary. He believed that the New Deal represented a drastic change in how Americans viewed government and its role in the economy. Rather than expecting economic troubles to be solved by market forces (a faith in "laissez-faire economics"), Americans began to expect the government to act in times of economic trouble and intervene to help make things better.

Degler saw Social Security as a piece of this change, signaling that Americans viewed the government as responsible for ensuring that older Americans would live decent lives. This was a shift from thinking that this responsibility lay only with individuals and families. Degler also argued that Social Security demonstrated FDRís flexibility and willingness to experiment when the public demanded it. The American public was ready for a change after experiencing the severe conditions during the Great Depression, when banks were failing, industries were faltering, people were unemployed, and feelings of fear, uneasiness, and dissatisfaction were widespread. Degler argued that the New Deal constituted a permanent shift in the American publicís expectations: they now wanted the government to be an active player in the economy.

Carl N. Degler (1959). "The Third American Revolution." In Out of Our Past: The Forces that Shaped Modern America.