11 Chapters
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11. The Debate over “Big” Government

Ballard C. Campbell Indiana University Press ePub

READ MY LIPS: no new taxes.” Taking a cue from a Clint Eastwood movie, George Herbert Walker Bush pledged to hold the line on taxes in his presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 1988. Bush’s promise is among the most memorable political remarks uttered in recent decades. His antitax stand echoed the advice of his predecessor Ronald Reagan and probably helped him beat Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential candidate, in 1988. But his “Read my lips” remark came back to haunt the president, who angered supporters by agreeing to tax increases in 1990. Although the president proposed to lower the budget deficit by both a reduction in spending and an increase in revenue, conservatives saw Bush’s budget maneuvering as a betrayal of his antitax pledge. Here was evidence for the Right that the president was not a real conservative. This resentment cost George H. W. Bush votes in 1992, when he lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton and to Ross Perot, the billionaire independent candidate who focused on the deficit issue.

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8. Paying for Modern Government

Ballard C. Campbell Indiana University Press ePub

MODERN AMERICANS GRUMBLE when they must add a dime or more sales tax to the cost of a doughnut and a cup of coffee. The approach of April 15, when income tax reports are due, can bring on apprehensions. Life in the Cleveland era had its annoyances too, but paying taxes was not one of them for most people. The average worker paid no direct levies to the government. The explanation for this astonishing situation lies in the way government used to raise its revenue. In the late 1800s the public sector levied two principal taxes—one on property and the other on imported goods. Of the two, only the property tax was levied directly on individuals and then principally on the owners of real estate. But most Americans in 1900 did not own a home or land. Roughly two-thirds of householders in the cities, where most workers lived, were renters. And a third of all farmers were tenants working and living on land they did not own. Property taxes applied to business property too, but only a small fraction of the workforce owned commercial real estate and most who did were also homeowners. Simple arithmetic shows that only a minority of Americans paid property taxes, the largest levy in the republican era.

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7. The New Equality

Ballard C. Campbell Indiana University Press ePub

ONLY SIX HUNDRED miles lay between Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Chicago, Illinois. For the aspiring bluesman Muddy Waters and other African Americans who left the delta region for the Windy City, however, the two areas were worlds apart. Whether their destination was the upper Midwest or another location, the refugees fled the South’s four curses: social segregation, the denial of political rights, poverty, and violence. These outcroppings of racial oppression had hardened into a comprehensive system of discrimination in the South during the half-century after Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Racial prejudice among whites existed nationwide; in the South discrimination was legal.

Racial segregation symbolized the South’s traditional legal culture. State statutes and local ordinances created a network of Jim Crow rules that kept blacks physically separated from whites. These laws applied both to privately owned establishments, such as factory washrooms and restaurants, and public facilities, such as city parks and schools. Seventeen southern states mandated that black children attend separate schools, which received a fraction of funds invested in schools reserved for whites. An analogy existed in the North, where public officials colluded with realtors and bankers in erecting racial barriers to property transactions, which put entire communities off-limits to African Americans. Even the Federal government had allowed racial discrimination, most conspicuously in the military (until 1948) and in certain programs (such as wage agreements under the New Deal).

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6. The New Income Security

Ballard C. Campbell Indiana University Press ePub

I SEE ONE-THIRD of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” That sobering observation was the keynote of Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address in 1937. Despite the improvement in conditions during the first four years of the New Deal, the president admitted that millions of individuals still scratched out an existence “on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.” Most Americans in 1937 did not need a reminder that depression lingered in the land. But announcement of such widespread poverty seemed a contradiction in a country renowned for opportunity and plenty.

Difficult too for some to accept was the president’s recommendation that government should “provide enough for those who have too little.” Was it Washington’s obligation to assist people who were in need? Who would be eligible for public benefits? How much should they receive and for how long? These questions raised some of the most intractable policy issues in modern American history. In the eyes of some if not most people in the 1930s, financial help from government subverted time-honored reliance on individual initiative, private charity, and local responsibility. And if income assistance was accepted as a legitimate exercise of national authority, the thorny problems of who deserved help and what was an adequate level of support remained. The national government had begun to consider these issues several years before Roosevelt reported on poverty. During the next sixty years the United States constructed an array of economic security programs upon this foundation. Yet the polity never achieved a philosophic consensus about income inequality or government’s responsibility to ensure a decent standard of living for every individual.

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5. The Managed Economy since the New Deal

Ballard C. Campbell Indiana University Press ePub

MAN, IT WAS the war time. There was jobs all over.” That’s how Muddy Waters remembered Chicago in 1943. On the day he arrived in the Windy City, Muddy found work at a box factory.1 The prospect of a steady job at decent wages had lured him out of Mississippi and the poverty that enveloped black farmhands in the river delta region. What Muddy Waters really wanted, however, was a paying audience to hear him play the blues. So he followed tens of thousands of blacks who quit the cotton fields along the lower reaches of the Mississippi River and went north in search of a better life.

Success to Muddy Waters was snaring a gig in a west side tavern at five dollars a night. Economists saw the mass migration of blacks out of the South as the tendency of labor to flow from low- to high-wage areas. World War II magnified the economic imbalances between regions, which in turn spawned internal migration. Government orders for military goods opened up new positions for men and women in the factories of the East and Midwest, in the shipyards of coastal cities, and in the aircraft plants of California. The creation of well-paying jobs induced a massive relocation of blacks and whites. This reshuffling of people across America was one of several momentous changes caused by the war.

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