“The People’s Platform,” 1938


I have been prowling through the quiet recesses of the Providence Public Library, and have found some amazing things. Among them: collections of radio scripts from the late 1930s / early 1940s.

This period was the heyday of radio: comedy, news, music, variety, politics. It was like network TV when I was a kid in the 1960s: it was the world, brought into your house.

But I have made some melancholy discoveries too.

There was, for example, a program called “The People’s Platform.” A transcript was included in a collection I read recently. There were five participants: the host (presumably neutral); a conservative/right wing commentator; a government representative; a carpenter; and an unemployed (woman) teacher.  The discussion was about the 1930s depression, and the government’s response to it.

The rightist’s argument was that the government had failed, failed, failed. Nine years had passed since 1929, and unemployment was still the same.

Well, the others pointed out, the government had helped out in the interim, but the National Relief Act had been found unconstitutional for various reasons, and unemployment had popped back up.

Exactly! the rightist crowed. Governments can’t fix unemployment! Only employers (read: job creators) can!

Not so fast, said the carpenter and the unemployed teacher. Industry did precious little to help during the early 1930s. Government needs (if necessary) to make them create jobs.

That’s fascism, rightist says.

No it’s not, the rest of the panel says.

They argue about the difference between government regulation and government control. (The former is okay; the latter is fascist. The former is negative – you mustn’t sell poison food; the latter is positive – you must create jobs. Some of the panelists demur on this point.)

The program was fascinating, and very sad.

There was another script in the same book: a history of the Depression and the recovery. It listed programs I knew (the NRA, the CCC, the WPA) and others I didn’t (the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Civil Works Act). It mentioned that, even during the Hoover administration, relief was being enacted by Congress – but Hoover vetoed it, because it “unbalanced the Federal budget.”

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Jesus! Everything old is new again. No one learns any lessons. It’s right there in front of us, and we don’t learn.

(I remember what I was taught in seventh and eight grade: the Depression didn’t really end until World War II, when industry was forced to reboot by the Federal government. True? I don’t know. I hope not.)

(But I’m sure the next few years will tell us everything.)

(And we (as a nation) still won’t learn a damned thing.)

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

2 Responses to “The People’s Platform,” 1938

  1. starproms says:

    Sad that we keep on making the same mistakes. I can only speak for England, but what I see over there is that our manufacturing industries have been sent abroad to a cheaper workforce and now our people don’t have jobs. Our recession is a deep one and no end in sight as yet.
    I love the radio. Why not try ours sometime Loren. Just go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio and you will see quite a few stations to choose from. Some of those you would like very much.

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