Opposition to Social Security in 1930s
When Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in the 1930s, many Americans were unconvinced that the program was good policy. Republicans and conservative Democrats made accusations about the program's influence on the economy and also insinuated that the program was socialist. Despite this opposition, the Social Security Act became law.
1 Charges of Socialism
Critics of the Social Security Act worried that the program's old age pensions and unemployment insurance were based on socialism. Opponents of this view were not shy about their criticisms: When Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor testified on Capitol Hill about Social Security, Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, a Democrat from Oklahoma, asked the Secretary if Social Security was socialism. Likewise, the American Bar Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce denounced Social Security as an attempt to "Sovietize the country" and a compulsory socialistic tax.
2 High Taxes
Other opponents lamented the high payroll tax that the Social Security Act required to finance the program. Alf Landon, the Republican Party's 1936 presidential candidate, called the Social Security Act's tax the largest tax bill in history. In addition, while the tax was statutorily divided between the employer and the employee, some charged that this was a fraud. While this was statutorily the case, opponents contended that employers and owners would pass the cost of the tax onto consumers and employees, which Landon and others thought was unfair.
3 Weakened Economy
Beyond the burden of a high tax bill, Social Security opponents worried that the law would weaken the U.S. economy overall. This was especially concerning given the then-recent upheaval of the Great Depression, in which many Americans fell into poverty. With unemployment still high in the 1930s, many thought that Social Security would either increase unemployment or prevent reentry into the workforce.
4 Large Powerful Bureaucracy
A common lament about Social Security was that it would create a large and domineering federal bureaucracy. Some thought this bureaucracy would be so large that it would undermine democratic institutions, and that the act was itself unconstitutional. Many also believed that the bureaucracy would further undermine the economy. In particular, they worried that government-provided insurance programs would outcompete private companies and lead to their collapse. In the 1930s, these opponents were particularly concerned about private pension plans.
- 1 The New York Times: New Deal Debate for a New Era
- 2 Social Security Administration: John G. Winant: First Chairman Of The Social Security Board
- 3 George Mason University: History Matters: "I Will Not Promise The Moon": Alf Landon Opposes the Social Security Act, 1936
- 4 Social Security Administration: Social Security History