Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park

*This was a part of an essay where I was asked to choose a monument or place of American historical significance. There were a series of questions but I chose to focus on its meaning in the past and present. Most importantly how although it is called the Four Freedoms, its location is ironic*
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park is a monument dedicated to the former American president of the United States, who served from 1933 until his death in 1945. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Park, located on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, lies between the island of Manhattan and the New York City borough of Queens. The Four Freedoms Park is named after President Roosevelt’s 8th State of the Union Address made to the United States Congress on 6 January 1941 during the Second World War, a conflict that lasted from 1939 until 1945. The Four Freedoms speech addressed what Roosevelt hoped for the United States and the world which were freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. As a monument, the Four Freedoms Park fails to represent the meaning of Roosevelt’s speech. The placement of the monument in New York City represents the trajectory of American history and the history of the struggle between ordinary working people trying to fight for their economic rights against a government that was extremely pro-business. American government being explicitly pro-business was put to a halt under Roosevelt’s presidency in 1933 and has gone full circle back to the economic dynamics that occurred before Roosevelt. Therefore, the Four Freedoms Park fails to represent Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech.
Before Roosevelt was elected President in 1933, American government was explicitly pro-business. Specifically, in 1928, Herbert Hoover (R) was elected President of the United States and too was pro-business. Unfortunately, less than eight months into Hoover’s presidency the Stock Market Crash of 1929 led to the Gross National Product dropping from 104 billion to 59 billion the leading to a global depression. Hoover used whatever methods to deal with the depression and encouraged business owners to cut off wages or lay off workers. Hoover assisted American businesses during the Great Depression by passing the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act in 1930 and by establishing the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932. The Hawley Smoot Tariff Act raised American tariffs on imported goods and forced Americans to only purchase domestic goods. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation was founded in 1932 in order to provide financial support to local and state governments and to assist businesses leading to 300 million dollars given to subsidize big and small businesses. American business owners were considered robber barons, a derogatory term used to describe ruthless and unethical tactics in acquiring more wealth and buying out competitors. These robber barons thrived due to absences of government regulation in the financial markets.
Roosevelt was born into privilege and had established a reputation as a politician before he was elected President of the United States in 1933 as governor of New York City from 1929 until 1932. The United States suffered heavily from the Great Depression. Homelessness, unemployment, natural disasters spanned across the United States and Roosevelt sought to alleviate the crisis, explicitly, through a series of reforms that came to be known as the New Deal programs. There were various reforms passed by the New Deal programs such as the creation of FDIC, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, where if a bank went under,then individuals with bank accounts would be insured by the federal government up to $5,000. However, it is important to take into consideration that Keynesianism was very popular during the 1930s. John Maynard Keynes, an influential English economist, believed that if governments used deficit spending to put an end to recessions it would spur the economy and make the economy grow. Roosevelt envisioned a society where government was in people’s lives and made their lives better. The excess of capitalism and the government’s inability to reign in capitalism is what led to the United States being on the brink of disaster. Roosevelt was very important in this era because he envisioned a larger government that would “save capitalism from itself.”
In this respect the Four Freedoms Park is a noble monument with noble intentions. However, it has become ironic to place such a monument in a city that has come to embrace the opposite of FDR’s programs and visions for society. The idea of large government and Keynesianism itself came under heavy attack starting in the 1970s when new economists, labeled the Chicago Boys led by Milton Friedman from the University of Chicago sought to reduce the role of government in the market and instead espoused the importance of having a free market. This was in some ways a return to the concepts of laissez faire capitalism, a kind of capitalism that FDR meant to control with his reforms to government. New York City was the center of this struggle between these competing economic ideologies. History shows that the free market ideology would win in NYC. The 1970s in NYC was defined by a financial crisis that would forever shape the city.[1] Abram Beame, mayor of NYC and Hugh Carey, governor of New York visited President Gerald Ford in Washington, DC on May of 1975.[2] Beame and Carey asked Ford for federal assistance to NYC’s economic crisis was refused making the cover of the Daily News titled “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” New York was once a manufacturing city with its working class living in the city proper (Manhattan). This city would be transformed into one with finance, insurance and real estate as its main industries and Manhattan and many parts of the city would get rid of its working classes, instead making the city into a playground of the rich.[3] This is has great implications for the people living in this city. The Four Freedoms speech mentions freedom from want. It is interesting that this monument would then be placed in an island that has dedicated much of its construction to luxury housing amidst a crisis of affordable housing and homelessness. It is no secret that many of these luxury housing developments in the city remain empty, because they are used as investments and tax shelters for wealthy foreign billionaires and millionaires. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg once boasted that he wished all of the world’s billionaires would buy property in New York City.[4]
The reality is the speech of FDR is incompatible to the society we will live in now. President Roosevelt managed to create a robust government to help people instead of capital. His reforms however are under attack still, as we can see in presidential debates as nominees have debated about privatizing social security. It is a hollow feeling seeing the Four Freedoms monument knowing that the government has essentially turned its back on FDR’s envisioned society for one that is closer in ideology to the time of the robber barons.

Works Cited
“Bloomberg: More Billionaires Moving To NYC Would Be ‘Godsend’ « CBS New York.” CBS New York. Accessed July 11, 2016. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/09/20/bloomberg-more-billionaires-moving-to-nyc-would-be-godsend/.

Philips-Fein, Kim. “The Legacy of the 1970s Fiscal Crisis.” The Nation. April 16, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/legacy-1970s-fiscal-crisis/

[1] Kim Philips-Fein. “The Legacy of the 1970s Fiscal Crisis.” The Nation. April 16, 2013. https://www.thenation.com/article/legacy-1970s-fiscal-crisis/.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Bloomberg: More Billionaires Moving To NYC Would Be ‘Godsend’ « CBS New York.” CBS New York. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/09/20/bloomberg-more-billionaires-moving-to-nyc-would-be-godsend/.

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