A Historical Reminder: FDR’s Second (Economic) Bill of Rights

By FDR and Merrill Ring

It is time for those of us liberals/progressives to re-consider FDR’S proposal for a second Bill of Rights.

In his 1944 State of the Union Address, President Roosevelt proposed that we add to our original political bill of rights, namely the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, a second economic Bill of Rights.  He said “As our nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

Progressives are serious about achieving equality.  Roosevelt was correct that the political equality promised (though not well enough delivered) in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, even as amended over the years, is not sufficient to produce equality.  For those documents are silent on economic issues and it is on economic matters that the country is slipping away from the level of equality achieved as a result of the New Deal.  

There are three major issues that must be considered in re-thinking an economic Bill of Rights.  (1)  What would be the rights to be enumerated in such an updated Bill?  (2)  How would such a Bill achieve the status of the political Bill of Rights (as a Constitutional amendment?)  (3) What political changes must be made to accomplish such equality (at a start the Citizens United decision must be overturned)?

As a first step here is what FDR proposed for an economic Bill of Rights.  Clearly times have moved on (especially, the agricultural sector of the US is not in such desperate shape as it was in during the Roosevelt years.)

FDR’S Economic Bill of Rights

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

Those rights can be summarized as concerned with:

Employment with a living wage

Food, clothing and leisure

Fair income for farm families

Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies for small business

Housing

Medical care

Social Security

Education

With those matters in mind, I propose that we embark on a discussion of the issues involved in working toward FDR’s dream of an economic bill of rights.