Douglas County resettlement farmsteads, Nebraska, May 1936: photo by Arthur Rothstein, Resettlement Administration/Farm Security Administration (National Archives and Records Administration)
The year 1928 does not seem far in the past, but since that time, as all of us are aware, the world about us has experienced significant changes. Four years ago, if you heard and believed the tidings of the time, you could expect to take your place in a society well supplied with material things and could look forward to the not too distant time when you would be living in your own homes, each (if you believed the politicians) with a two-car garage; and, without great effort, would be providing yourselves and your families with all the necessities and amenities of life, and perhaps in addition, assure by your savings their security and your own in the future. Indeed, if you were observant, you would have seen that many of your elders had discovered a still easier road to material success. They had found that once they had accumulated a few dollars they needed only to put them in the proper place and then sit back and read in comfort the hieroglyphics called stock quotations which proclaimed that their wealth was mounting miraculously without any work or effort on their part. Many who were called and who are still pleased to call themselves the leaders of finance celebrated and assured us of an eternal future for this easy-chair mode of living. And to the stimulation of belief in this dazzling chimera were lent not only the voices of some of our public men in high office, but their influence and the material aid of the very instruments of Government which they controlled.
No, our basic trouble was not an insufficiency of capital. It was an insufficient distribution of buying power coupled with an over-sufficient speculation in production. While wages rose in many of our industries, they did not as a whole rise proportionately to the reward to capital, and at the same time the purchasing power of other great groups of our population was permitted to shrink. We accumulated such a superabundance of capital that our great bankers were vying with each other, some of them employing questionable methods, in their efforts to lend this capital at home and abroad. it seems to me probable that our physical economic plant will not expand in the future at the same rate at which it has expanded in the past. We may build more factories, but the fact remains that we have enough now to supply all of our domestic needs, and more, if they are used. With these factories we can now make more shoes, more textiles, more steel, more radios, more automobiles, more of almost everything than we can use.
Soil erosion in the Rosebud Country, South Dakota, 1935: photographer unknown, Farm Security Administration (National Archives and Records Administration)
Evacuation sale, c. 1933: photographer unknown (Graff Collection/Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Abandoned mill, Alarka, North Carolina, c. 1933: photo by M.L. Wilson, Works Progress Administration (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Abandoned mining town, Logan, Illinois c. 1933: photographer unknown, Works Progress Administration (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Factories closed, c. 1935: photo by Arthur Rothstein, Farm Security Administration (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Tipple at Chickasaw Mine (abandoned), Carbon Hill, Alabama, c. 1933: photo by William C. Pryor, Works Progress Administration (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Skid Row, San Francisco, February 1937: photo by Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Jobless Men Keep Going: photo by Robert E. Allen, c. 1933 (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Unemployed men's shacks, New York, New York, February 16, 1932: photographer unknown (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)