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The Revolution of 1935

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By Gregory Bresiger at Mises.org

This article is excerpted from Gregory Bresiger’s large monograph, The Revolution of 1935: The Secret History of Social Security, published in the Mises Institute series Essays in Political Economy.

A second American revolution occurred almost 70 years ago. On August 14, 1935, after very little public or congressional debate, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on. Many of his allies were disappointed because they wanted more than the act provided; FDR assured them much more was coming.1

He said, on signing the bill into law, that Social Security “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete.”2 In the midst of the Great Depression, and with most of his New Deal initiatives failing to restore the economy, FDR hoped that the federal government, through programs such as Social Security, would temper and control the business cycle. Social Security, FDR said, would “flatten out the peaks and valleys of deflation and inflation.”3

Social Security was representative of national planning schemes, some of which had been tested during World War I and regained popularity with intellectuals after the crash of 1929. Many intellectuals believed the government could wage war on poverty and, by using the techniques of wartime planning so popular with progressives during World War I, manage the business cycle.4

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