Forgotten Moments in the American Welfare State

Something that I find interesting is the way progressive folk memory often distorts the actual process through which we got to the present day. For example, the FDR of myth was a steadfast fighter who proclaimed “I welcome their hatred” and rallied the public to enact the New Deal we know today. Then there’s this account from The Politics of Attention:

On August 28, 1950, President Truman enthusiastically signed Social Security reforms he had urged for years, reforms that expanded Old Age and Survivors Insurances (OASI) benefits by 77 percent, expanded the covered population dramatically, and decreased the required contributions in the system. […] The 1950 legislation radically transformed the small program established in major amendments to the Social Security Act in 1939. The 1950 statutory changes caused an explosion in Social Security expenditures. From FY 1949 to FY 1950, real expenditures grew 3 percent. From FY 1950 to FY 1951, they grew 25 percent, and the next year they grew an additional 37 percent—the largets two-year percentage increase in the history of the program—even though most payments would come much later as the newly covered persons retired. By 1952, expenditures had increased by an astounding 71 percent percent, and expenditures increased 10 percent a year or more for the next three fiscal years.

Needless to say, not in Pete Peterson’s wildest dreams will we be moving to a Social Security system that’s remotely as stingy as what FDR actually enacted. And even though we recently went through a spasm of Truman hagiography, I don’t recall him being widely hailed as one of the major architects of the social insurance state.