New Deal Planning; The National Resources Planning Board

For every community planner and economic developer, the history of the 1920’s and 30’s hold special meaning. 

It’s the Hoover and FDR presidential era that provides the “birth right” of government regulation of private property land use and governmental aid to assist private business investment in new job creation.

As a student of this period of history and an avid follower of current political and economic conditions, comparison of history with today supports the claim that “history repeats itself”.

Planning and economic development was born out of necessity – the remedy of economic depression and the depilating financial impact upon a vast majority of the American population.

Marion Clawsen in his book New Deal Planning; The National Resources Planning Board documents the history of FDR’s attempt to introduce national cooperative planning to reshape the role of government’s effort to reinvigorate the depression economy.

Through several iterations of national planning organizations FDR’s goals of creating an institution within the federal government that would plan and program public works investments; stimulate city, county and regional planning; coordinate all federal planning activities with state and local planning efforts plus conduct various forms of research was rebuffed and eventually terminated by  direct congressional action.

While the difficult economic times paved the way for imaginative and innovative ideas that would better coordinate new and existing programs to stimulate the economy, this experimentation, the Hoover Employment Stabilization Act of 1931 and the formation of the FDR’s Nation al Planning  Board in 1933; work which continued under different names and authorities till 1939, never achieved the stated FDR goal of achieving a long-ranged plan “laying out a 25-50 year program for national development”.

What the reader will take from reading Clawson’s book is the dependence today upon similar “depression era” programs by federal and state government to remedy today’s economic recession.

Additionally, for those followers of federal government bureaucracy, it will easy to identify the legacy of the depression era government planning and research activities now embodied, but scattered, among various federal agencies.

Two messages from reading this book – First, government new deal planning remains, abet scattered, uncoordinated, unrecognized and largely ineffective within our current federal government.  Second, faced with national economic difficulties the federal government response is to fall back to strategies and program, much of which originated in the FDR era, many which history has questioned their overall long-term effectiveness.

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