- New Deal Days: 1933–1934
This work is not intended as a heavyweight scholarly treatise on the first year of the New Deal—and therein lies its charm. It is instead a series of impressionistic sketches written when the author was touring the United States as a recipient of a fellowship for travel from Columbia University. (By convention, recipients of this stipend were expected to use it to absorb high culture in Europe. As a self-described “provincial New Yorker,” Eli Ginzberg succeeded in persuading the Columbia authorities that a grand tour of the United States would be a more appropriate supplement to his formal education, on grounds that he had already lived and studied in Europe.)
Ginzberg dedicates this travel diary (here published for the first time) to “Columbia University teachers and friends.” In 1933–34, three of those so identified—Adolph A. Berle, Rexford Guy Tugwell, and Raymond Moley—were close to Roosevelt as charter members of his “Brains Trust.” Bonds of friendship notwithstanding, Ginzberg reports his skepticism about economic policy initiatives set in motion by the original New Dealers. From his vantage point in the field, many of these experiments were of doubtful merit. Indeed, he observed that “either the New Deal would have to be scrapped—hourly wage rates would have to fall, price protection would have to be abandoned, Public Works Administration (PWA) expenditures curtailed or else inflation would be inevitable” (43).
The author’s contemporary assessments of the impact of New Deal programs is not what makes this volume of interest to a reader in the late 1990s. Its significant “value added” stems from the grassroots reporting about the plight of ordinary people [End Page 605] caught up in a world shaken by a stock market that had “behaved in a manner quite unbecoming to stock markets” (24). There are delightful vignettes, for example, about country bankers, dust-bowl farmers, sheep ranchers, labor organizers and their attempts to thwart company spies, migrants swelling the population of California, unreconstructed southerners, and so on. The reality of the Great Depression comes through here in ways that are not captured in the official statistics or the bureaucratic reports of the day.