Made for this Moment: The Enduring Relevance of Adolf Berle's Belief in a Global New Deal
Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business Discussion Paper no. 968
85 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2018 Last revised: 21 Aug 2018
Date Written: May 17, 2018
At a time when the insecurity of working people in the United States and Europe is being exploited by nativist forces, the concept of a global New Deal is more relevant than ever. But, instead of a global New Deal, the predominant force in international trade in recent decades has been spreading pre-New Deal, laissez-faire approaches to markets, without extending with equal vigor the regulations essential to providing ordinary people economic security. Adolf Berle recognized that if the economy did not work for all, the worst impulses in humanity could be exploited by demagogues and authoritarians, having seen this first hand in the 1930s. Berle believed in international trade and economic dynamism. But he understood that growth in each produces instability, the potential for lost jobs, and human insecurity that governments, preferably working in concert, have the duty and capacity to address. That is why he advocated for a global New Deal that would extend the key elements necessary to a fair economy to cover the full scope of the transnational economy. This article identifies support in Berle’s writing for addressing economic inequality and insecurity and ensuring that the advances for working people accomplished by the New Deal and social democracy in the OECD nations are preserved and extended to working people in developing nations. Because Berle was both a believer in facts and an optimist, one senses that he would now be arguing for a muscular and bold international agenda to increase the security of working people in the developed world while simultaneously strengthening trade and opportunities for people in the developing world. Berle’s writings indicate that working people would be central to his focus, and signal his support for stronger minimum wages appropriate to the conditions of different tiers of the world economy, guarantees for workers to bargain for higher wages, and protections against child labor, unfair hours, and unsafe working conditions. Berle also advocated for other policies that have current relevance, such as investments in infrastructure, evolving technology, environmental protection, and education to create employment opportunities, improve quality of life, and make the United States more competitive. Berle’s work also indicates that he would view the U.S. as well positioned to pay for needed action by asking the wealthy winners to pay their fair share and by enacting Pigouvian taxes that would also reduce the risks of financial speculation and carbon use. This article outlines key components that could form the basis for Berlean transnational understandings to create more economic security for working people and thus continue globalizing trade while addressing the legitimate concerns of workers in the OECD nations.
Keywords: New Deal, Global New Deal, international trade, inequality, economic security, social security, Berle, FDR, labor, populism, globalism, Benefit Corporation, corporate responsibility, corporate social responsibility
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